Goodnight Trades Tragedy for Comedy

Mystery was in the air, as a desk, cluttered with books, a typewriter, a three-hole punch, an appendix in a jar, a human skull, and a Budweiser beer can appeared on stage before a packed Steinbach Theater this weekend, for the production of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Directed by Taylor Allbright ’04 and written by award-winning playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald, Goodnight Desdemona took the audience down a magical road of discovery and transformation paved with humor, wit, and Shakespearean satire, and with a great cast serving as guides. The audience whetted its curiosity on an eerie prologue on alchemy, incanted by a strange woman dressed all in black, played by Brianna Zani, ’06. Goodnight began in “real time” with the blustered arrival of Assistant Professor Constance Ledbelly. “Connie,” played by Cléa Major ’05, rushes onstage, engrossed in thought, and grabs a feathered fountain pen to scribble down mad revelations on Shakespeare’s works. Connie, known as the “crackpot mouse” of Queens University, has been writing a thesis on the idea that Shakespeare plundered comedies of an earlier writer to write his great tragedies – a theory whose key is the as-yet-un-deciphered ancient “Gustav Manuscript.” A social recluse whose best friends are her cats, Connie is being used by her colleague Professor Night, played by Christopher Lynch ’04, who takes advantage of her literary brilliance and infatuation. After Professor Night tells Constance about a position he has been offered at Oxford based on her work, she, in a fit of exasperation, begins to throw out her thesis research when she discovers a new prophecy. Suddenly, the lights flash red, and Connie disappears. Connie reappears in Othello, just in time to stop Othello, played by Chris Lynch ’04, from killing his wife Desdemona, played by Priscilla I’Anson ’06, and therefore changes the entire course of the play. Constance becomes a part of the world of Othello: she speaks in iambic pentameter; is named the scholar of Othello’s court; and makes fast friends with Desdemona. The cryptic prophecy has given her a puzzling quest: to find “the author, the fool, and herself.” She explains her search to Desdemona, who comes to her enthusiastic aid, running out to fight the “Turkish Infidel” and discover part of the prophecy. Upon learning of the ruthless Professor Night, Desdemona encourages Constance to “become an Amazon” and fight for herself. Meanwhile, Iago, played by Darren DeFreeuw ’04, Othello’s right hand man whose treacherous plots were foiled by Constance, has planned revenge. Iago plants the seed of suspicion in Desdemona’s mind, and she imagines Othello is cheating on her with Constance. Desdemona confronts Constance and all goes red as Constance disappears again. The heroine arrives in Verona and works to prevent the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, so that they may live “happily ever after.” The bright star of young love, however, quickly dims with the cloud of marriage, as Romeo – played by Jason Townes French ’04 – and Juliet – played by Megan Evans ’06 – squabble like siblings. Juliet sighs to her nurse, played by Chris Lynch ’04, about the tedium of marriage. Romeo, it turns out, has homosexual tendencies. To complicate matters further, both of them fall in love with Constance, who they believe is “Constantine, the pedant boy from Cyprus.” Constance then traverses a bone yard where she meets Yorick from Hamlet, played by Malika Felix ’04, who answers her questions in riddles. Bewildered, Constance arrives at Juliet’s bedside to discover the second half of the prophecy, and Desdemona, who appears in a flash of light. Juliet and Desdemona fight over Constance; Juliet urging her to “come die” for love, and Desdemona to “come kill” for what she believes in. Frustrated, Constance bursts out that “real life is a big mess! A harmony of polar opposites!” and that they should “live life by questions, not solutions.” Juliet and Desdemona realize that Constance has “found herself.” The Ghost reappears, revealing that Constance is both “the author and the fool,” and Constance’s quest for discovery is complete. A talented cast beautifully pulled off Goodnight’s refreshing and well-written script. Cléa Major ’05’s portrayal of the pitiful “mouse” Constance was so tragic that it was comical – a great reflection of the idea behind the play. Major was the solid anchor of the performance, and her skill at juxtaposing the world of the Bard and our own made for many laughs. Priscilla I’Anson’06 showed great range in her portrayal of the very different characters of Desdemona, Mercutio, and Ramona, Professor Night’s fiancée. She shone as the strong-willed Desdemona and infused her character with mesmerizing earnestness. Megan Evans ’06 brought Juliet to life by portraying her with such a youthful self-centered spirit that she came alive. She approached the legendary Juliet with a mischievous and engaging air. Christopher Lynch ’04 demonstrated many talents as the infamous Professor Night, stalwart Othello, volatile Tybalt, and Juliet’s Nurse (in hilarious falsetto). Lynch entertained all with his swashbuckling swordsmanship. Jason Townes French ’04 played a spontaneous confident Romeo, reveling in the pleasures of life: horses and sex. His eyes sparkled with roguish humor as he cross-dressed in Juliet’s gown. Darren DeFreeuw ’04 as the devious Iago executed his sarcastic lines with skill and great timing. His treachery made for great suspense. In her hair-raising portrayal of the Ghost, Malika Felix ’04 utilized great body language and tone of voice. Her wild costume and energy crackled. Sarah Hong ’05’s brief, but comic part as a soldier brought huge laughs from the audience. Finally, Brianna Zani ’06 played an eerie Chorus, book-ending the performance with flawlessly articulated monologues. Taylor Allbright ’04’s production of Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet was an outstanding success. Skillfully blending a great selection of music, a clean set, a great cast, script, and take on the play, the performance was a refreshing journey.