GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA (GOOD MORNING JULIET) by Ann-Marie MacDonald, directed by Alisa Palmer, with MacDonald, Juan Chioran, Cara Pifko, Alison Sealy-Smith, Andy Velasquez, Leanne Dixon and Erika Hennebury. Presented by Canadian Stage at the Bluma Appel (27 Front East). Runs to April 14, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm, Saturday 2 pm. $20-$69. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNN
ann-marie macdonald's good
Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is entering an awkward adolescence.
What must have been charming, clever and oh-so-feminist-studies-department 13 years ago has become thin and juvenile, at least judging by the current overscaled Canadian Stage revival.
It's the playwright's first outing playing mousy assistant English prof Constance Ledbelly, an overworked academic who's spent her professional life trying to prove that Shakespeare's Othello and Romeo And Juliet are in fact comedies.
MacDonald plows through the script with energy and high spirits, only occasionally showing strain and exhaustion.
It's a losing battle, though, because the play keeps letting her and us down. It's a youthful work, loaded with puns, androgynous winks and broad slapstick. There are occasional bits of wit, but the play seldom achieves Stoppardian brilliance.
Worse, it feels dated, its once-amusing rants about, say, the political implications of drinking Coors Light feeling stale, flat and unprofitable today.
Still, there's no denying MacDonald's talent, and her language occasionally reaches inspired heights, especially around gender issues.
Her conceit that Shakespeare's women are mistakenly perceived as passive and ineffectual remains the work's strongest theme, given full life by Alison Sealy-Smith as the warrior-like Desdemona, and Cara Pifko as the libidinous, spoilt and impulsive Juliet.
Along with these two, Shakespeare actor Juan Chioran's quadruple turn as, among others, Othello and Juliet's lascivious nurse ensures that the show is at least well-acted.
But what does Constance want? And what's at stake for her? More than 100 productions later these remain the biggest holes in the script. Alisa Palmer's broad production doesn't provide the answers.
Neither can they be found in Charlotte Dean's set, one of the ugliest and least evocative in recent memory.
On the vast Bluma Appel stage -- far too big for this small, cheeky piece -- it's clear that MacDonald has tackled Shakespearean tragedy, attempted to make a comedy and ended up with what's known in academic circles as a problem play.