Beyond the Bard: “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)”

WRTDesJul

Photo back to front: Victoria George, Lily Odekirk, Marta Rainer* AEA*

Presented by Wellesley Repertory Theatre
Written by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Directed by Nora Hussey

May 26 – June 26
Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre
Wellesley, MA
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Review by Danielle Rosvally

(Wellesley, MA) Having just recently completed my own Doctorate in Shakespeare, I can relate deeply to the struggles of Constance Ledbelly, the heroine of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet).  To those who spend any amount of time studying Shakespeare’s works, the bard’s characters become constant companions; roommates, lovers, friends; nearly corporeal in their presence in our lives.  They haunt us; whispering echoes of themselves on loop day and night; and sometimes (if we are very lucky) revealing secrets of themselves only to us.  These secrets we prize at a worth beyond compare for they are the true goal of such study.

In that, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) seemed, to me, a spot on portrayal of what it’s like to work deeply with a well-worn text.  That said, the script is a bit mottled.  While act two is a glorious romp of comedy complete with tried-and-true-tropes like men wearing dresses and hilarious mistakes leading to mismatched wooings, act one is a bit more beleaguered and heavy.  Act two shows the audience some insight into the people who inhabit Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that might seem inevitable extensions of the Bard’s characters.  Act one (focused on Othello) seems confused in its goals and unable to truly live up to any expectation of worth.

What the play lacked in content, the piece made up for in panache.  The brilliant cast paraded their way through the performance with gusto and relish.  Marta Rainer as Constance is natural and lunatic; easily parsing the often complicated soliloquys that the script demands of her.  She gracefully becomes the role in an utterly bulletproof performance.  John Kinsherf displays both comic timing and dramatic augustness in his many roles (including Othello and Juliet’s Nurse).  Woody Gaul plays the piece’s more sinister characters, though his comedic genius can often be spotted at the edges of the scenes.  Lillian Odekirk plays Juliet like you’ve never seen her before, and Victoria George brings the house down as Desdemona (in a very Game of Thrones kind of way).  MacMillan Leslie is confoundingly charming as an airheaded Romeo for a new generation.  Together, the cast entertains stupendously.

The sets by Janie Howland are stunning and simple, though the transitions between scenes could use some tightening.  One very loud, very alarming sound effect is used to signify otherworldly travel and it often goes on for a bit too long due to these transitions.  The other lackluster aspect of the performance are the fights by Ted Hewlett.  These sequences are recklessly fast, and the actors use a bit too much force when they come blade to blade (as evidenced by the blades’ unsteady buckling on contact).  This is even more concerning because of how close the audience sits to the combatants; a shattered blade could very well mean an injured audience member.  Front row denizens be warned.

Despite these few flaws, the show is definitely worth seeing.  While it might seem like a haul to get to Wellesley, this ensemble will work themselves tirelessly to entertain and their efforts are extremely fruitful.  Go if you love Shakespeare; go if you don’t love Shakespeare.  Go if you’re trying to figure out what all this “early modern English” stuff actually means; and go if you’re just looking for a good time.  Sensing a theme here?  Good.  Get thee to it!

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