Theatre Review: GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA (Good Morning Juliet) at the Belfry Theatre now

GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA (Good Morning Juliet)

Academics and theatre reviewers have been waxing poetic about Ann-Marie MacDonald and her relationship with Carl Jung since GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA (Good Morning Juliet) burst from MacDonald’s fertile mind twenty-five years ago. It would not be a stretch to add Joseph Campbell’s epic mythological journey to the considerable list of attributed source material for this play.

The lead character’s name, Constance Ledbelly, can be torn apart to support Jung’s influence (Jung wrote on the banks of Lake Constance, the character’s static demeanor significantly contributed to her worries), and there is no shortage of references to Jung’s alchemy (Le[a]dbelly’s quill turns to gold). The lead is the hero (she dives into Othello and Romeo and Juliet with abandon in order to right perceived wrongs and complete her quest for self discovery), and her journey- real or perceived- resolves her self-doubt.

But to anchor a review of GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA on these constructs would be to miss the point. Ledbelly is an academic with a decidedly feministic point of view, though she has failed to act to her potential on either ground. Discontented, abandoned, and desperate, she looks to her comforts- two of Shakespeare’s own- for reconciliation. And there she finds her voice. Academia is farcical. Tragedy is comedy. Life is Drama. MacDonald distils Shakespeare to an accessible composition and pokes fun at the molecular weight usually associated with the works.

She becomes the wise fool, the alchemist, and the author of the meta-plays that she knows as required reading, and reinforces the academic view of art that the audience is the writer of the perceived work.

MacDonald stipulates the doubling and tripling of actors’ roles to emphasize the complexity of the individual, and the multiple personalities and possibilities that lie within. Male and female parts are interchanged in the play to focus attention on contemporary gender issues and the dialogue is rife with feminist dogma.

GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA was masterfully scripted by a talented and profound author and she has generously shared her journey of self-exploration with the audience. MacDonald has a reputation for producing barely disguised biographical material and it is not difficult to imagine Ledbelly as her actus personae in a hall of repeating mirrors. In this exploration of the lead’s mind, we must wonder if the authorship of GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA, MacDonald’s first and perhaps seminal work, did not itself set MacDonald on the right track.

Ultimately, it may be that Shakespeare was left over the burner a bit too long. The premise that Othello and Romeo and Juliet are comedy rather than tragedy was pushed too near farcical levels by the end of the play. In the last thirty minutes the audience tires of too many close-coupled footsteps on the hollow stage and an excess of high-pitched excitement. Castrato is fine, but it is unbalanced without tenor. MacDonald might have taken herself a little more seriously without losing the plot. Her language is divine. It is imbued with word games and misdirection, and demonstrates an extraordinary level of attention to detail. The dialogue is a mélange of contemporary accessibility and haughty artisanship that would survive more measured consideration. The farcical pace and frantic physicality of the later scenes deliver a bit of a letdown in an otherwise sublimely crafted and entertaining work.

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WRITE A NOVEL IN THREE DAYS!

Why would you want to? I’m not sure. But someone thought it was a good idea.

            The 38th annual 3-day novel contest (3daynovel.com) happens on the labour day weekend (or the labor day weekend, since it’s an international contest). Being a novelist and a keener, I figured it worth a try, so I signed up. Uh-huh. The rules are simple. Start in on a novel just past midnight on Friday, and put your hands in the air and walk away from the keyboard at midnight on Monday. Oh, you can think about it all you want before the starting gun goes off (it’s a trap) and you can write notes or even make a rudimentary plan (another trap) if you are so inclined. You can write about whatever you want. There’s no genre or style limitations, and it can be as long or as short as you like (dare).

            Sounds okay, I thought. I’d not even think about it until 11:50 pm on Friday and in the ten minutes to the start line, I’d pick a place, a character, and do a first person walk-through of a story. I was walking down the street and who should happen across my path but… I’m wickedly fast at a keyboard and I figured a longer story would garner extra points for first impression. I was in the top ten percent before I started.

            So what went wrong, exactly? To start with, I got an idea for some characters about three weeks early. They started telling me how cool it would be if they did this and that and if I interpreted their actions in certain ways. And their plans for me didn’t include simply happening across my path, either. I have to admit I thought their plans intriguing so I went along with it. Just to see what would happen.

            Since I’m telling it like it is here- I really am wicked fast- I should probably confess that my memory is perhaps not up to average specs. So when the little men and women in my head did things that I thought impressive, crazy, or just entertaining, I took to writing them down, lest I forget.

            When Friday midnight came, I had notes stuck all over my study. Post-its on the wall, three-ring paper taped to my glass-fronted art and windows, and stuff spread around on the floor. And of course my lead writing assistant, Cruiser the Portuguese Water Dog was banned from his place under my feet for fear of treading on my plans.           

NOTE TO SELF: WRITING A NOVEL IN 3 DAYS IS A BAD IDEA. 

Here is how I spent seventy-two hours:

  • Showers (six)
  • Teeth flossing sessions(eleven)
  • Walking in circles (far less constructive than pacing, which I understand requires a back and forth action)
  • Eating bad things
  • Drinking (no alcohol) odd things
  • Sleeping (3.5 hours per night)
  • In bed not sleeping (approximately 14 hours total)
  • Communicating with others -Cruiser excluded- (ZERO minutes)
  • Communicating with Cruiser (damn near 72 hours)
  • Recognizing I wasn’t getting enough sleep (when Cruiser answered in English. He speaks Portuguese)
  • Reviewing Elmore Leonard’s ten rules for writing (three times)
  • Looking at my lists (constantly)
  • Sorting, filing, and resorting and filing, lists (constantly). 

So where are we so far? I have little people in my head, fast fingers, a slow mind, a literary canine sidekick, and 72 hours to write a novel. What could happen? 

I’ll spare you the suspense: I did it. I wrote a novel in 72 hours. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has a protagonist, an antagonist or two, a love interest, several unduly complicated plotlines, three murders, one psychological journey, consistently progressing character arcs, a payoff, and three- count ‘em- three acts. I feel pretty good about that. It’s about 33,000 words long (135 pp) and I left nothing off the page. At least that’s the way I recall it. I haven’t slept much, remember.

            I must have learned something, right? So I’m going to share:

            I wrote as much in the shower as in front of the keyboard. That must mean something.

            There’s a time when I can’t write because I’m intellectually spent, but I can’t sleep either. That really messed up my plans. I think there’s something in that too.

            I never did tax my fingers. I could have typed a lot more. It was the thinking that I didn’t have enough time for.

            I don’t care about dangling participles.

            If anyone asks you to write a novel in three days, run. Run fast (in the other direction, if that is not patently clear by now).

            Have a good dog. And a family that understand that support sometimes means leaving you alone. Have an avocation that you love and will pursue if it kills you. Enjoy ridiculous challenges. Write and write and write.

            The contest was absurdly difficult. Horrendous at times. It was also fascinating, invigorating, shocking, surprising, ethereal, enlightening, and unbearably worthwhile. I am a far better writer than I was last week. At least I will be when I get some sleep. How often can you say that?

            They interviewed me twice (before and after) online at cbc.ca/canadawrites. You can look at that if you want. The older post is called Bleeding at the typerwriter (w/credit to Papa). The new one should be front-and-centre tomorrow at 7:00 am.

            Will I win the contest? I don’t know. There are lots of really talented writers out there and I don’t know what they’ll submit. I do know that when I sat down at midnight on Friday, I pointed over the outfield wall. And when the pitch came I gave it my all. I left nothing off the page. I finished two hours early and at that place and time I couldn’t have improved a single syllable of those thirty-three thousand words. I had nothing left. How often can you say that?