By Ann-Marie MacDonald
Directed by: Denis Johnston
Performances: March 24-27, 1998
Venue: Theatre of the Arts, Modern Languages Building
Another Coach House play, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), mixes styles with uproarious and provocative results. It is the story of a mousy Queen’s University lecturer, Constance Ledbelly, whose progress on her long-delayed PhD thesis is impeded by the scholarly ghost-writing she provides for Professor Claude Knight, the object of her unrequited love. Indeed, Constance has become a laughingstock in her small academic circle because of her obsession with an oddball literary theory: that Othello and Romeo and Juliet are hasty rewrites of earlier (and now lost) comedies. She has a Renaissance alchemist’s manuscript which will surely prove she’s right - if only she could decode it. But Connie’s world is shattered when her Knight runs off with his star graduate student. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Constance is then whisked away to far-off lands inhabited by strange people - who look a lot like some of the folks back at Queen’s.
In the Cyprus of Othello, Constance exposes Iago’s treachery, and thus earns the eternal gratitude of the Moor and his bride. But Desdemona, far from the simpering victim we might expect, turns out to be a headstrong warrior who is equally vulnerable to Iago’s slanders. As the jealous Desdemona prepares to take her revenge, a second Jungian tornado whirls Constance into the middle of Shakespeare’s most famous street fight. There, disguised as a boy, she saves Romeo and Tybalt by disclosing their new kinship - and is plunged into a new round of unforeseen consequences. All the while Constance ransacks the Shakespearean plays for clues as to who the “real” author is, and where the Wise Fool might be who could turn these plays to comedy.
First produced in 1988, Goodnight Desdemona has recently attracted new productions in both professional and university theatres. And no wonder. The play is both delightfully literate and engagingly lowbrow, provoking laughter with both subtle Shakespearean allusions and irresistibly bad puns. Beyond the story of our plucky heroine, and beyond some ingenious Shakespearean burlesque, lies a feminist allegory accessible to even the most porcine or male chauvinists. In the end, as a Prologue promises, “mingling and unmingling opposites/transform base metal into precious gold”. Constance learns that she is the author of her own life, and a fool wise enough to laugh at her own small tragedies. It is her own mettle which is transformed.