Student Actors Lior Livshits, Sterling Wesley and Shaciah Lee at the “Red Velvet” dress rehearsal Feb. 3. Credit: Rishi Rajagopalan | Lantern Reporter

Just in time for Black History Month, the Department of Theatre is presenting a play about a pivotal African American figure in theater.

Lolita Chakrabarti’s 2012 play “Red Velvet” will open Thursday at the Drake Performance and Event Center as part of Ohio State’s Raw Theatre program, which stages work with a smaller cast, minimal budget and compressed schedule, according to the Department of Theatre’s website. 

“Red Velvet” tells the true story of Ira Aldridge, an African American actor in the 19th century who plays the lead role in William Shakespeare’s “Othello” after the production’s original lead falls ill, according to the website.

Sterling Wesley, a third-year in theatre who plays Aldridge, said that as a black actor, Aldridge’s story is priceless information.

“It’s still relevant. America — racism is still here. Still very present. And especially, it’s fitting that this is in Black History Month. So I think the educational opportunities for people to come see it, I think they’re worth it,” Wesley said.

Wesley said “Red Velvet” gives cast members an opportunity to engage with their self-image in a play about a play.

“It’s just fun because we kind of have the opportunity to poke fun at actors — as people, who we are, what we like to do. I think it’s fun that we can try and make fun of ourselves, be a bit overdramatic,” Wesley said.

The play is directed by Ted Lange, a guest director best known for his role as Isaac Washington on the television series, “The Love Boat.”

Lange said he has long had an interest in Aldridge. He wrote a rock musical based on Aldridge’s life called “Born a Unicorn” in 1981.

Sticking to the play’s British roots, Lange said he does not aim to change anything to cater to an American audience. He said students are performing with English accents and some portions in German.

“I think the actors are fulfilling their obligation as the characters in the play, and that we make the audience feel what it must have been like in 1833 in England on the London stage,” Lange said. 

“Red Velvet” will premiere at 7:30 p.m Thursday at the Drake Performance and Event Center’s Roy Bowen Theatre and will run until Feb.15. Tickets can be purchased by calling 614-292-2295, online through Ticketmaster and in person at the Ohio State Theatre Ticket Office for $20 for the general public; $18 for staff, alumni and senior citizens and $15 for students and children.