Shakespeare may have a large collection of comedies, but he is best known for his tragic plays, such as Romeo and Juliet and Othello. But what if Shakespeare had given his characters the power to prevent the easily preventable tragic incidents in these plays? This is just one of the many questions that Anne-Marie MacDonald’s 1988 play Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) asks. But don’t worry—it asks these questions in hugely entertaining, often hilarious ways. And with Theatre Erindale’s latest production of the play, you’re bound to leave the theatre not only laughing, but also with a few new ideas to ponder.
The play begins in the 1980s, and it follows the life of a meek assistant professor named Constance Ledbelly (Olivia Lloyd). While working on a research project one day, Constance is magically transported to the time of Shakespeare’s classic plays Othello and Romeo and Juliet. She goes on to form tenuous friendships with each play’s heroine, respectively Desdemona (Michelle Nash) and Juliet (Brenna Stewart), and now finds herself able to stop both of the very famous literary tragedies from occurring. Through an array of misadventures that include mistaken identity, sexual confusion, and more than one dance-off, Constance unintentionally wreaks havoc on these two Shakespearean worlds. Faced with multiple newfound suitors and also an enemy or two, Constance must get handle on her historical meddling and also somehow find a way back to her own time.
Clearly, with this premise, Goodnight Desdemona is a comedy, and it’s one that’s not afraid to go over the top. It mixes eras and fully embraces its ’80s influences, using songs by Michael Jackson, Soft Cell, and many other ’80s hit-makers. The costumes and a spectrum of neon lighting also help to set the lively mood. Throw in choreographed dance numbers and surprisingly forward-thinking literary heroines, and the especially strong second half of the play often resembles a madcap ’80s teen movie more than it resembles Romeo and Juliet.
MacDonald’s script serves as a really smart and fun starting point, but a big part of why the play’s more outlandish moments work so well in this particular production is the contribution of the cast. All five leads in Theatre Erindale’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) prove to be multitalented. Not only must they master the Shakespearean language, they must also tackle comedy, sword fighting, physical stunts, singing, and dancing. Like any good tragedy, it features more than a little violence, and they’re up to the physical challenges that come along with that. Director Daniel Levinson has brought his extensive experience as a fight director to this production, and the professionalism is clear in this production’s numerous and exciting fight scenes.
Olivia Lloyd does a good job of conveying Constance’s no-nonsense exterior, as well as the mess of insecurities and shyness that simmers just below the surface. Michelle Nash also makes for a powerful Desdemona, and she and Lloyd are a fun onstage duo when Constance visits the wonderful world of Othello.
Adam Cresswell is also especially entertaining as the flamboyant and petulant Romeo. From his over-the-top tantrums to his more subtle moments of physical humour, Cresswell clearly has a lot of comedic skill, and his enthusiasm is infectious.
Another standout in the cast is Brenna Stewart, who plays Juliet. As well as nailing the play’s more dramatic moments, Stewart also proves to be a great comedic actress as Juliet descends into increasingly spastic behaviour. Finding herself already bored by her new teenage husband the morning after their wedding, Juliet looks for love elsewhere, and Stewart shines as the newly empowered and unexpectedly forward Juliet.
Jack Morton takes on multiple roles (as do most of the cast members), and he does well at portraying his well-varied characters, including Othello. But his strongest performance of all may be as professor Claude Night, the object of Constance’s affections in her own era. Night is an all-around insufferable character, and Morton seems to relish playing the villain, giving a hilarious and caustic portrayal.
Some of the material in Goodnight Desdemona could have come across as awkward or simply unfunny, but this talented cast is unashamed and keeps the energy high. Their efforts certainly didn’t go unnoticed by the enthusiastic crowd, who laughed and cheered along with the play’s escapades.
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) has some interesting things to say about gender politics, and it’s a play that takes a lot of pleasure in flipping Shakespearean stereotypes on their head. However, you definitely don’t have to be an expert on Romeo and Juliet and Othello to enjoy this production. It’s meant for a wide audience, and while it is thought-provoking, it’s mostly just a lot of fun.
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) runs until January 29 at Theatre Erindale.