GOOD NIGHT DESDEMONA (GOOD MORNING JULIET)

United Players, Jericho Arts Centre, until February 17

Photo: Nancy Caldwell

My Two Cents

My Two Cents

By Lillian Jasper

United Players’ Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is so much fun I don’t quite know where to begin. Written 30 years ago by Ann-Marie MacDonald, Good Night Desdemona follows Constace Ledbelly (Zosia Cassie), mousey assistant professor at Queen’s University, as she takes a fantastical journey through two of Shakespeare’s tragedies, Othello and Romeo and Juliet. Constance postulates that the horrific fates of Juliet and Desdemona are caused by simple misunderstandings and she attempts to rectify this by playing the fool. Hilarity and empowerment ensue.

Director Sarah Rodgers keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, yet the dialogue is still crisply delivered so that we can truly savour MacDonald’s clever, Shakespeare-ish prose. Every actor is on point, most of them playing multiple characters. They all bring an appropriate amount of energy to their roles. It’s welcome - some of the situations are purely ridiculous (not unlike much of Shakespeare) and the commitment to absurdity is needed for the suspension of disbelief. The physical comedy and timing are assured and confident. Some of the second act hasn’t aged fantastically, but the playfulness with which they tackle gender- and sexual-fluidity felt, for the most part, in keeping with Shakespeare’s time while shrewdly reflective of the present day.

Brian Ball’s set is magnificent, evoking both Queen’s University and Shakespeare’s Globe. The lighting by Darren W. Hales is wonderfully vivid, blues and greens highlighting the dream-like quality of the proceedings. Matthias Falvai does double duty, as both sound designer and appearing onstage as the balladeer Chorus. There are some genius musical interludes that added an entire new dimension to the already intelligent script.

 If you are unfamiliar with Shakespeare or not a fan, this might not be up your alley. To all others I would say, hie thee to the Jericho Arts Centre immediately for a light and delightful evening of feminist farce at its finest. 

By Emma Rossland

 

The thing about many community theatres is that, very often, the plays they choose are nothing new. They tend to stick to the same old shows and the same themes. One thing about United Players is that they try to widen their selection of plays and often a gem is found. Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is one such play and displays community theatre at its finest. Ann-Marie MacDonald’s script is a great one to work with and this United Players production definitely does it justice.

The play opens with a scene in Constance Ledbelly’s office at Queen’s University. The set is simple but beautiful with giant dark wood bookshelves properly stuffed with old volumes. There is a balcony (which of course will come into play later) and arches between the bookcases, a large desk, and not much else. The layout doesn’t change much throughout the play, but the desk is dismantled and used as various set pieces throughout the show. Although simple, the set is used perfectly as we shift from Queen’s to Cyprus to Verona and back. Sarah Rodger’s direction is brilliant as actors use every inch of the stage to tell their story.

The use of lights and sound is also very compelling. The Chorus (Matthias Falvai) begins the play with a monologue laying the scene. As he speaks of alchemy and the search for the Philosopher’s Stone the stage goes black and when the lights come up he’s in a different archway as if by magic. This sets the audience up for the element of magic that occurs throughout the play. The magic that transports Constance (Zosia Cassie) to Cyprus at the time of Othello, then later to Verona at the time of Romeo and Juliet. The Chorus, who is very bard-like, also plays an interesting role as he pops in and out of the play singing songs from popular culture, reimagined as music befitting a Shakespearean play.

The acting is also very strong with 7 actors playing 19 roles. All the actors do an excellent job with the tricky blank verse we associate with Shakespeare. Sometimes when watching performers recite Shakespeare, it’s not entirely apparent if they have a total grasp of what they are saying, but all of the actors clearly understand their lines which in turn helps the audience understand as well. The only thing I could find any fault with is the sword fighting. While Othello/Tybalt (Tré Cotten) seems very confident in his abilities, the others Desdemona/Mercutio (Olesia Shewchuk) and Romeo/Iago (Vincent Keats) seem a bit hesitant and look as if they are anticipating the strikes. 

All in all, it is a delight to watch. The acting, direction, scenic and technical aspects are all irreproachable. The play makes you think of Othello and Romeo and Juliet in a different way. Could these two tragedies have been comedies if there were one or two changes? Or would Desdemona have succumbed to Iago’s treachery? Would Romeo and Juliet have tired of each other? Did they have to die for their love to be immortalized? So as long as you are armed with some knowledge of Shakespeare and these two plays in particular, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is an entertaining and unique Shakespearean experience.