Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: (Victoria) Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

Canadian Classic Kicks Off Belfry Theatre's Shakespeare Season
by Morgan McPherson

Tonight was the night where I got to experience that intangible transformation that takes words on a page and, as if through alchemy, changes them into an experience you can properly lose yourself in.  I got to see Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Canadian classic, Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) at the always-charming Belfry theatre.

Eleven years ago, as a fresh-faced teenager, I took the one English class of my university career, and recall reading both Othello and Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). To be honest, until tonight, I forgot that I had read Othello at all, but never forgot Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet).  I distinctly recall it to be one of the only works in that class that I enjoyed reading, and when given the opportunity to see it staged, I did a little happy dance and headed off to the theatre.  It’s so rare for someone who hasn’t studied theatre to have read a play, then finally get to see that work put forth onto the stage.  Everything about this production was fantastic, and a testament to the magic that can be worked when the right material meets the right creative team.

Written in 1988, this production was directed by Ron Jenkins (whose recent credits extend nearly as long as my arm), whose work as a director and a playwright has won numerous awards.  The set was colorful and creative, designed to a tee by Camellia Koo. I would like to note here that I have been to two performances in as many weeks with sets designed by Koo, and have adored both.  I enjoyed a rather unique view from the balcony and so really got to see some creative maneuvers and set features that those seated on the ground floor would not have been as able to enjoy. From a Cyprian battleground to a graveyard in Verona, Brian Linds' sound design and Michelle Ramsay's lighting complement each other perfectly and do not disappoint.

The play's action centers on the character of Constance Ledbelly, a graduate student and assistant professor at Queen’s University who is working on her doctoral dissertation. Much to the laughingstock of her colleagues, Connie's thesis is based on the premise that Shakespeare’s tragedies Romeo and Juliet and Othello are not really tragedies, but were originally meant to be comedies penned by some unknown author, and that the heroines in both plays, Juliet and Desdemona, are not the meek, tragic characters they turned out to be in the finished works.  She seeks to decipher an obscure text to find the identity of the author and thus prove her theories correct.  When Claude Knight, the professor she has been working alongside for a decade delivers a personal and professional blow, Constance begins to throw the contents of her desk into her recycling bin, and is sucked in herself!  She is pulled first to Othello's Cyprus and then Romeo and Juliet's Verona and, with the help of Desdemona and Juliet themselves, begins a quest to find the unknoswn author and ends up discovering a lot about herself in the process.

The cast of this show was extremely talented.  Daniela Vlaskalic plays the indomitable Constance Ledbelly, and most of her deliveries left me (and the rest of the audience) holding our stomachs with laughter. Honestly, we were in stitches.  The other actors played multiple roles to great effect (I was at times fooled into thinking they were all different actors). Michael Dufays plays the moor Othello, Claude Knight, the rather pompous university professor, Tybalt, and Juliet's nurse.  Jameson Matthew Parker is both the scheming Iago, sensitive (but also cross-dressing) Romeo, while also playing the play's narrator. Nicola Elba is bloodthirsty Desdemona and Mercutio and Pippa Mackie plays a servant but most importantly spoiled, hot-blooded adolescent Juliet, ready to impale herself at the drop of a hat. I was simply blown away by the whole performance; every thing about it was hilariously well-done, from the acting to the sets and sound to the choreography (by Jessica Hickman) and fight sequences (by Michael Dufays).  I would give this show as many golden feather pens as I can, and can tell you with certainty that I will be going again before the run of the show is over. See you there.

Run Time: 2h 15 min, 1 intermission
Run Dates: September 17th-October 20th, 2013

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