Story: Constance Ledbelly is a quiet, unobtrusive assistant English professor at a Canadian university. She spends her time making Claude Night, a full-fledged professor at the school and the object of her unrequited love, look good by doing much of his work for him, while she toils in obscurity.
Truth is, Constance has a remarkable theory: She thinks that both Othello and Romeo and Juliet originally were comedies, not tragedies, and written by someone other than William Shakespeare. She posits that the origins of the two stories were revealed in a canon known as the Gustav Manuscript, which apparently was written in code by its alchemist author centuries earlier.
Breaking that code is Constance’s Holy Grail, the central core of her doctoral dissertation. As she labors into the night, she begins to hallucinate and quite soon, she finds herself integrally involved in both stories as a new character. Will she survive Desdemona’s suspicions about her? Will she withstand the romantic overtures of both Romeo and Juliet? Will she find the ‘Wise Fool’ character in each story that will validate her theory? What will become of Constance?
Highlights: Playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald received a bevy of accolades in the Great White North for her witty and clever 1988 comedy that brings a delightfully new and captivating take to two of the Bard’s classic tragedies. It’s an amusing and entertaining romp through all manner of Bard-worthy subjects.
Director Joshua Cook and his engaging Clayton Community Theatre performers offer Shakespearean buffs a classy diversion full of its own surprises, and a proper bookend to Solemn Mockeries, another offbeat, Bard-inspired tale which The Midnight Company staged earlier this month.
Other Info: Cook keeps the pace brisk and the action consistent in the first act, which focuses on setting up MacDonald’s story and then getting into the Othello riff. The production falters, though, in the second act take on Romeo and Juliet, which gradually becomes repetitive and almost collapses as the single premise of MacDonald’s inspiration wheezes to conclusion.
Still, there’s enough comedy, both subtle and rollicking, here to make for a passable evening. Crucial to the show’s success is Valleri Dillard’s droll delivery as the self-deprecating Constance. Appearing for much of the first act wearing a shapeless hat with floppy earmuffs a la The Mackenzie Brothers helps establish Constance’s woe-begotten state, courtesy of costume designer Beth Ashby.
Dillard is a hoot as Constance mingles with characters who all of a sudden are flesh-and-blood counterparts that reveal surprising elements of their personalities not available in your standard Works of Shakespeare.
Laura Singleton, e.g., is a tough and tenacious Desdemona, no shrinking violet she but every bit as tough and cunning as the female ‘huntsman’ in the new TV series version of Dracula. And Tasha Zebrowski is a comic pit bull as she takes full command of her own tedious situation as a Juliet who already is bored with Romeo and smitten instead with Constance, er, Constantine, as Ledbelly refers to herself in male attire.
Ben Ritchie is lots o’ fun as a smartly dressed commentator of the goings-on and also as the ‘Wise Fool,’ complete with clown makeup and some bad jokes as well as clever little clues about the derivation of these supposedly Shakespearean stories.
Brandon Atkins is sufficiently slimy as the dastardly Professor Night and has fun as well as the confused Othello and equally confused Tybalt. Maxwell Knocke is OK as the sexually confused Romeo in that endless second act.
Cook designed the set, Brian Peters provides smooth fight choreography, Nathan Schroeder adds lighting and props are furnished by Liz Pacheco.
Goodnight, Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet) is quirky and funny and something different for lovers of the Bard or comedy in general, particularly the first act. Even if Cook won’t find it in that Complete Works of Shakespeare tome he received one Christmas day in his formative years.
Play: Goodnight, Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet)
Company: Clayton Community Theatre
Venue: Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
Dates: January 31, February 1, 2
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb