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.