Shakespearean theory in the age of fan fic. 


(willamette week)  Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is like fan fiction writ large. A long-suffering grad student falls down a trash-can rabbit hole and into a parallel reality, where the plots of two of Shakespeare’s greater works unfold simultaneously and give her a chance to test her thesis: Othello and Romeo and Juliet were both meant to be comedies.

Desdemona is often charming, and rookie director Brenan Dwyer did well to cast Rebecca Ridenour as Constance Ledbelly, a heartbroken assistant professor who suffers something of a breakdown after being reassigned to an obscure college somewhere in the prairies. Ridenour brings eloquence and restraint to the role, grounding scenes that would otherwise have careened into irredeemable absurdity. Constance lands in Cyprus in time to convince Othello (a regal Ashleigh Bragg) that Iago is pulling one over on him, and that Desdemona is, in fact, faithful. Enter Desdemona (an eye-rolling if ecstatic Melissa Whitney) who, unknowingly freed of her death sentence, reveals herself as a kind of kindred spirit to Othello: paranoid and constantly on some kind of warpath.

An unseen hand then delivers Constance to Verona, where she reveals Romeo (Deanna Wells) and Juliet’s (Bonnie Auguston) secret marriage and efficiently strikes a truce between the Capulets and Montagues—it’s really about communication, just as Constance suspected. This paves the way for quick, conjugal boredom between the no-longer-star-crossed-lovers, two teenagers with wandering eyes.

But in this final Northwest Classical Theatre Company production at the Shoebox Theater, Dwyer forgoes subtlety and ignores scale, and the cast at times appears to be playing theater games rather than giving Ann-Marie MacDonald’s sometimes treacly script its due. The performances are often outsized, delivered with too much of a thud at the feet of an audience that sits only a couple feet away; Juliet’s pratfalls, Desdemona’s nasal inflections and Romeo’s pained British patois are to theater what vocal fry is to broadcasting. 

Yet there is an undeniable chemistry among the cast, and the audience can’t help but hope they will land somewhere great after the theater disbands or relocates (depending on which rumor you give more credence to). Each has strong moments, and they have pulled off an impressive, flip-of-script accomplishment: The male parts are all played by women. And they did it so ably that I didn’t realize what had happened until the second act.
originally published Jun 9 2015

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