Get to Know Desdemona & Medea
By A Noise Within
April 10, 2019
One of most unique traits of A Noise Within is our dedication to rotating repertory theatre, where several plays alternate on our stage and where our actors create an artistic muscularity from juggling different worlds and aesthetics and characters at once. This season, one such example is Angela Gulner, who plays Desdemona in Othello and Medea in Argonautika: The Voyage of Jason and the Argonauts. Angela was eager to talk about these two fascinating female characters and how her multiple roles have shaped her craft as an artist.
What’s it like being in a repertory theatre with multiple roles, shows, and directors? How do they inform each other in your work as an actor?
It’s such a wonderful gift to get to work on two such different shows with two extraordinary directors at the same time. Othello, being Shakespeare, requires a great deal of focus on the text – using the words, exploring the language, finding clarity, nuance, and humanity through some of Shakespeare’s greatest writing. Our first week of rehearsal was spent entirely at the table, discussing, exploring, working with our incredible dramaturg, and using language to create our world. Argonautika, on the other hand, is an incredibly physical show – there’s dancing and puppet work, ropes and trap doors… we ran and sang before we crawled or spoke. The body and the use of space was the entry point in that rehearsal room. With such different shows, I’m being stretched as an actor in opposite directions – it’s a bit like acting boot camp, each show has different such demands. But throughout the run, I’ve found that working in two such different ways has made my approach to each show more well-rounded. My work in Othello has made my work in Argo stronger, and vice versa. I’m now thinking – well, feeling and exploring – who Desdemona is physically in a way perhaps I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t working with Julia on Argo. And with Medea, I’m finding new beauty in Mary Zimmerman’s unique poetry. I’m using the language more fully than I was at the beginning of the rehearsal process. I feel incredibly awake as an actor this season – tuned into my voice, body, and emotions in a way I haven’t really experienced in the past. It’s an incredible challenge and such a joy!
What appeals to you the most about Othello and Argonautika?
With Othello, I’m drawn to the incredible relevance of the play today – and with Jessica setting it in a modern context, this becomes disturbingly clear. Themes of trust, envy, domestic violence, racism, and the power of the spoken word. This play is a terrifying warning to us all – a mirror being held up to the ugliest parts of our society.
With Argonautika, I’m enchanted by its childlike wonder. This show feels like being a kid again – it’s awe-inspiring and magical. And I get a DRAGON!!!! I also love having the opportunity to explore a side of Medea that is rarely seen on stage. The young, wide-eyed innocent girl who is taken advantage of and pushed past her limits. Mary Zimmerman is reclaiming Medea’s story in a way, and I feel so lucky to have a hand in telling it.
How are your characters Desdemona and Medea similar? How are they different?
Both women are incredibly strong, smart, and passionate young women. They have a zest for life and a real creativity about them. They both betray their parents for ‘outsiders’ and they are both, in turn, betrayed. Both women approach the world with a sense of wonder at the top of the play, and both women – by the end – are destroyed by it. Both endure very great tragedies that they didn’t deserve.
Desdemona is older and more self-possessed. She knows what she wants and how to get it. She’s utterly confident in herself and in Othello’s love for her. She is embarking on the beginning of a beautiful life with her new husband – she’s bursting with joy and warmth. Medea, on the other hand, is younger and more insecure. Her decision to betray her family for the man she loves is much more difficult – and there’s a part of her that knows, deep down, that something about Jason seems too good to be true. Medea has less agency because she’s literally under a spell – and so when Jason turns on her, she unleashes a wrath Desdemona isn’t capable of.
If you could give one piece of advice to your characters, what would it be?
To Desdemona: LISTEN TO EMILIA. And keep your handkerchief under lock and key. And maybe lightly suggest some couple’s therapy? And don’t go to Cypress. You know what, maybe don’t even get married at all… go get your PhD instead! Or adopt a puppy.
To Medea: Jason’s a jerk. You can do better. Go hang with your dragon instead.