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Will's women get their say in 'Desdemona'

"There's no such thing as friendship between women," says the maid in Paula Vogel's "Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief."

Given the world the characters live in, with women forced to compete for men to ensure their survival, that's largely true.

Director Charlotte Ferreira's acerbic production, now running at Prospect Theater Project in Modesto, offers an alternately sad and funny behind-the-scenes look at the women in Shakespeare's tragedy "Othello."

Written in modern language, the 1993 play is filled with graphic sexual talk and is definitely not for children. In this version, the noble Moor Othello was right to suspect his wife, Desdemona, of infidelity.

Bored with married life, she gets her kicks working part time as a prostitute. She has performed lewd acts in church pews, experimented with S&M and slept with just about every man around except Cassio, the one Othello believes is her lover.

When she's not fooling around, she spends her time shocking her devout Irish Catholic maid, Emilia, with her antics, or playing cards with Cyprus' leading prostitute, Bianca.

Husbands and lovers are never seen but are talked about frequently.

Kathleen Ennis plays Desdemona as Vogel intended, as a spoiled brat who is convinced she can get away with anything. Upper class and privileged, she uses people to get what she wants, with no regard to their feelings.

Noelle Chandler's much-abused Emilia is sharp-tongued, sour and fed up with Desdemona's insensitivity. She seems to dislike everybody, from her shifty husband, Iago, to Desdemona's wild new best friend, Bianca.

Liz Tachella-Bowman's Cockney Bianca is the most appealing character in the show because she is straightforward and not scheming all the time like the other two. Desdemona and Emilia's constant mean-spirited sniping can get tiresome and doesn't let up until the end of the show. Bianca, by contrast, is happy and fun. She gets angry only when she feels her back is up against a wall.

Tachella-Bowman wears the most stunning of Tawny Holt's gorgeous costumes -- a gown made up of bright red, purple and pink streams of fabric.

All three actresses are talented and interact well together, with each getting moments to shine.

All their scenes are in a single cramped storage room beautifully designed and constructed by Brian Swander. The only place the women can relax without the men, it has laundry hanging from the ceiling, rakes and other gardening tools, shelves packed with jugs, books and modern items like a camera and Barbie doll.

The pacing is a bit disjointed because of the play's structure: short scenes followed by frequent blackouts. Sometimes the blackouts last too long and detract from the flow of the story.

Vogel is rightly praised for coming up with a creative twist on a classic Shakespeare work. However, for those who don't know "Othello," the plot twists may be difficult to follow. It's a good idea to read the summary in the program before the show begins.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or lmillegan@modbee.com.

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