While the casting of a black man as Shakespeare’s tragic Moor now seems a given, the toxic influence of racism long made such an option verboten. Only after Edmund Kean, the widely revered actor cast in the role at London’s Theatre Royal, fell ill was the offer extended to Ira Aldridge. He was the first African-American actor to portray Othello on a major stage. With racial tensions already running high due to passage of the U.K.’s 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, many feared the production could set off a full-blown riot. These circumstances form the basis of contemporary playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet. Produced by Walking Shadow Theatre Company, the work pits the era’s social prejudices against an actor’s determination to imbue a venerated role with his own hard-won authenticity. Lending dramatic gravitas to the part of Aldridge is JuCoby Johnston, the skilled actor most recently featured in Theater Latté Da’s Six Degrees of Separation. Directed by Amy Rummenie, Red Velvet looks to a historic event while remaining mindful of the timeless need to challenge racial bigotry wherever it should arise.