The Venetians is a co-production of Oak Park Festival Theatre and Kane Repertory Theatre of St. Charles. Pictured clockwise from top left is Ellen Campbell as Desdemona, Jesus Vincent Meredith as Othello and Christopher Wayland as Aaron (Photos provided by Oak Park Festival Theatre).

A new play, The Venetians, written by playwright Matt Barbot and directed by Edward Torres, is a timely adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello and The Merchant of Venice

Playing virtually, on demand, May 10-16, through Oak Park Festival Theatre and co-presented with Kane Repertory Theatre of St. Charles, Barbot’s Venetians tackles class system, religion, duplicity, jealousy and the dire consequences of misinformation.

Othello, played by Jesus Vincent Meredith, wants to wed Desdemona, Ellen Campbell, and seeks help from a loan shark, Shylock (Lawrence Grimm). 

Desdemona, a white, naïve young woman of nobility, is eager to marry a much older Othello, who is cautious about the ramifications of secretly wedding his boss’ daughter. They eventually tie the knot with the help of loyal friends, some of whom later turn on the couple and become a catalyst of destruction and death through their disloyalty and selfishness.

Iago (Andres Enriquez), Othello’s closest companion, is a liar, traitor, instigator and malicious murderer. Barbot captures a character who deceives so seamlessly, that, like Othello, the audience is drawn into believing with their ears instead of their eyes.

Many in the audience will find commonality among the sometimes heartbreaking ways certain factions of a community are marginalized through massive mistreatment; Barbot does an excellent job of modernizing the idea of people’s need to belong to communities that always shun them, no matter the identity compromises an individual makes out of a desire to be a part of something — race, economics, culture and class being central motivations behind the shunning. 

Barbot’s storytelling reveals how betrayal from those you trust can erode the innocence and goodness in a character. The acting is so involving, that you can imagine an audience shouting to the characters trying to warn them to open their eyes, and not be fooled by the extreme views of the perpetrators whose sole purpose is to manipulate them into committing unwarranted acts of violence.

The story is told in relatable dialogue, making it easy for the audience to understand what is being said and allowing them to walk away feeling as though they just watched a live stage performance in a theater, not from the comforts of their homes, because of the impactful depiction by characters who are refreshingly engaging, clever, funny and commanding in their deliveries.

I highly recommend this play. For me, watching it on the night of my birthday was a wonderful gift. A gift well worth sharing.

Video on-demand tickets for “The Venetians” are available through Sunday, May 16. $25, individual; $45, family pass; $15, students and teachers. Tickets/more: onthestage.com/show/oak-park-festival-theatre/the-venetians-video-on-demand-6122

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