Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet)
A play by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Directed by Ron Jenkins
Sept 17 – Oct 20
Reviewed by Leah Callen
Constance Ledbelly, the unrecognized Queen of Academe, is a slave in inky chains at her desk at Queen’s. While falling for a plagiarizing prof and trying to prove that Othello and Romeo and Juliet were originally comedies, she tips head-first into the recycling box – and into Shakespeareland. Goodnight Desdemona is a playful, magical adventure in the theatre of the self, pitting real life against the stage
As the audience flowed into their seats, I couldn’t help feeling wowed by the visual detail of the set. The staging is spectacular, with swordfights that get the blood going to ingenious trips through time and space. If the Bard ever wandered into an episode of the Twilight Zone, this would be it. Everything gets turned on its head, from a bloodthirsty Desdemona to a slutty Juliet – bloodlust and physical lust out of control. The moment Romeo stops a sword with his long-stemmed rose like a Renaissance flower child, you have a feeling this star-crossed hero may take to cross- dressing. Sexual orientation is up in the air as characters swoon for both sexes in their quest for satisfaction.
The physicality of the actors is a blast as they swing from the rafters and balance atop bookcases. The contrast between cynical, awkward Constance and her melodramatic Shakespearean counterparts is a riot. Lighting is literally striking in this production, as are the trippy sound effects and music. In fact, this play milks as much out of the stage as possible with props and surprises. Though the heroine is endlessly philosophizing with wonderful wordplay, you never get bored, thanks to the theatrical action.
Daniela Vlaskalic is charismatic as the romantically challenged bookworm Constance Ledbelly, cloistered in her intelligence. Her nerdy character borders on caricature, but she also has charming quirks, such as her parakeet pen, long johns and open-minded attractions. Nicola Elbro is a punchy Desdemona who roars her way gloriously through the story. Most of the actors here multi-act. Jameson Matthew Parker brandishes a double-edged sword as both the lovesick Romeo and the bitter Iago. Michael Dufays fumes as Othello, but also delights us as Juliet’s nurse – more Irish than Roman Catholic in this tale.
MacDonald’s parody of Shakespeare is hilarious. The night I attended, I heard non-stop laughter through Pippa Mackie’s upside down antics as desperate Juliet. But some of the story struck me as over-the-top chaos: as pieces of Constance show up scattered in this parallel world, I just couldn’t wrap my head around Tybalt balancing her appendix on a sword. It stretches the limits of belief. Costume-wise, the cross-dressing was a lot of fun, but I wasn’t sure I bought Desdemona’s hot pants. They left me wondering why.
Still, this a joyful journey that celebrates the magic of theatre, as the mousy yet brilliant heroine struggles to grow a spine and appreciate her own value while giving the boot to the bad guys. You’ll thank your lucky stars you saw it.
Leah Callen is an MFA student at the University of Victoria.