By Lori Bosworth
Toronto’s Hart House Theatre ended its 2013/2014 season with Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), which opened on Friday, February 28, 2014 at the University of Toronto theatre. Directed by Carly Chamberlain, the comedy centers around Constance Ledbelly, an English literature graduate student at Queen’s University who writes research papers for Professor Claude Night at the expense of her own dissertation. Ledbelly has discovered a manuscript that purports that Romeo and Juliet and Othello were originally written as comedies. When Night rejects her, becomes engaged to one of his graduate students and accepts a coveted position Ledbelly had been eyeing, Ledbelly sinks into a depression, and slips down the rabbit hole (in this case, her wastepaper basket), which is the gateway to an examination of her subconscious and her dissertation.
Ledbelly is whisked back to the settings of Othello and Romeo and Juliet to find the author of the manuscript and intervene in the plots’ direction to ward off the tragic fates of Desdemona and Juliet. In the course of doing so, Ledbelly has the adventure of a lifetime as she dresses as a man, escapes death on several occasions and attracts the romantic attention of Romeo, Juliet and Desdemona. Ledbelly resolves to find The Wise Fool in order to bring a comedic ending to the altered plots.
This cross-dressing, gender-bending, feminist manifesto is a hilarious romp led by Lesley Robertson as Constance Ledbelly. I couldn’t imagine anyone better than Robertson in the role of Ledbelly. Robertson is a superb actress with impeccable comedic timing and absolutely delights as the nerdy professor. With her gangly body movements and unmasked facial expressions, Robertson captures Ledbelly’s unsophistication. Robertson has the confidence to hoist MacDonald’s work on her capable shoulders and commandeer this play to the end for all its worth.
Nicholas Porteous as the manipulative Professor Claude Night (and later as the jealous Othello) offers an obnoxiously charming performance that garners many laughs for its transparence. Cydney Penner as Desdemona is fierce and formidable and captures the passion of the Venetian beauty’s outrage through her physical stamina and violent expression.
Jackie McClelland’s superb special effects include a head appearing out of the mist of Ledbelly’s waste paper basket while Jeremy Hutton’s music provides an updated edge to the production, particularly the pumping techno music, which signals that Ledbelly has arrived at some realization with respect to the manuscript.
Scott Penner’s set, which features Ledbelly’s drab university office representing her reality, surrounded by raised, multi-platform side stages signifying her alternate reality, easily teeters between the 20th and 16th centuries.
With tight direction from Carly Chamberlain, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) moves at a quick pace and is hugely entertaining for Shakespeare and non-Shakespeare fans alike.
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) plays at the Hart House Theatre at the University of Toronto from February 28, 2014 to March 8, 2014. Performances are Wedneday to Saturday at 8 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. on March 8, 2014. Tickets are Adults $28, Seniors $17 and Students $15. $10 Student tickets every Wednesday and $17 Alumni tickets every Thursday. Purchase tickets online or by calling 416-978-8849.