Constance Ledbelly, who uses a quill pen instead of a computer keyboard, isn’t exactly what you’d call the hippest academic on campus. In fact, most would call her a crackpot. Stuck slaving away for a conceited professor, she’s obsessed with a theory about the origins of Shakespeare’s “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Suddenly she finds herself in a dreamlike world — did a student spike her beer, or maybe she’s “on an acid trip”? — in which she comes face to face first with the famous Desdemona and then the even more iconic Juliet, the characters over whom she’s obsessed for so long.
Such is the storyline of Canadian author Ann-Marie MacDonald’s “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet),” a production of the Madwoman’s Attic Ensemble at the Broken Leg Stage. It’s an interesting premise, but I’m not all that impressed with the work as a whole. And this production, directed by Heather Parish, suffers from some weaknesses.
The play took a long time to warm up at the Saturday matinee I attended. Kristin Lyn Crase’s Constance — who took a while to find her footing in terms of an introductory monologue — finally started to click after a couple of scenes, but it was tough for her (and the audience) to connect with the playwright’s oblique, fussy, fantastical set-up. (Parish’s bare-bones staging doesn’t do much to illuminate the quirky text.)
Parish’s direction is more successful when Constance becomes fully immersed in the lives of the two Shakespeare heroines, and there are some clever bits — I love that she explains she comes from a world called “Academe” — and more than a few chuckles for those familiar with “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Gender-bending, a favorite device of Shakespeare’s, gets a good workout from this playwright as well.
Dorian Follansbee, Chelsea Bonilla and Christina Tellifson have some strong moments in the ensemble. And culture-clash hilarity is another source of laughs, such as when Constance teaches Desdemona the word “bullshit.” But overall, I walked away from this production without becoming fully invested in either the characters or the odd world they inhabit.