Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) Roars With Wit and Humour

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Left to Right: Allison Lynch (Desdemona) and Julie Orton (Iago) in Anne-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet),  presented by The Shakespeare Company & Handsome Alice Theatre & Hit & Myth Productions. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photography.

Co-presented with The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions, Handsome Alice Theatre, formerly known as Urban Curvz Theatre, makes its debut with Anne-Marie MacDonald’s 1988 play Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Winner of the Governor General’s Award for Drama, the Canadian play applies feminist theory to the works of William Shakespeare, namely Othello and Romeo & Juliet, critiquing academia and the patriarchy while doing so.

Directed by Kate Newby, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) tells the story of Constance Ledbelly (Ayla Stephen), a doctoral student who believes Othello and Romeo & Juliet were originally intended as comedies. Her theory is based on the Gustav manuscript, a mysterious document that Constance has yet to decipher. Constance’s dissertation is ridiculed by Professor Claude Night (Mabelle Carvajal), whom she has a crush on. Professor Night’s news that he has accepted a position at Oxford University, the very same Constance was hoping to land, devastates the lowly academic. Heartbroken, Constance loses all hope for both her romantic and academic aspirations, deciding right there and then that she will die alone, forgotten by Professor Night.

From here, the play plunges straight down a rabbit hole, dropping Constance first into Othello then Romeo & Juliet. Our hapless heroine embarks on a quest through her subconscious to find her identity, meeting the characters of Shakespeare’s plays along the way. Constance’s presence, however, changes the plays from tragedies to comedies, fulfilling her theory, albeit with unintended results as she becomes too involved in the plots.

What stands out most in MacDonald’s subversive play is the influence of the male gaze on Shakespeare’s female characters. For one, Constance refers to characters by what male academics have written about them, which creates some dissonance when she actually meets them. And then, there’s Shakespeare himself who sees Desdemona (Allison Lynch) as a possession for Othello who has her life in his hands, not unlike Professor Night with Constance. Juliet (Geneviève Paré) is prepared to die for Romeo (Julie Orton), her self-worth tied to romantic love with a man, again not unlike Constance and her love for Professor Night.

And so, Constance’s journey of self-discovery is about reclaiming her identity from patriarchal subjugation.

MacDonald’s play is very funny, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s also very smart. The text is rich in commentary about sexuality, the glass ceiling for female academics, and male-centric interpretations of English literature, all of which the Canadian playwright delivers with a deft hand. Thankfully, the play’s quirky humour is able to breathe through all these layers. Sometimes, comedic plays with big ideas fall flat as they are neither very funny or very insightful, effectively crushed under the weight of their ambition. MacDonald’s play rises to the task of producing smart, entertaining theatre.

Under Newby’s direction, the production is wild and delightfully weird. The director has chosen to stage the play in the 1970s, the era of funk and free love. The production is certainly funky with its collection of disco tunes, like Do The Hustle (Anton de Groot, Light and Sound Designer). The era is appropriate given the gender-bending that occurs with not only the presence of an all-female cast, but also Romeo and Juliet’s cross-dressing to win Constance’s favour; liberation from the status quo.

Julie Arsenault’s set is simple, yet effective. A two-tiered structure sits in the middle with two trap doors on its top. There is a balcony at the back of the theatre. At first glance, the floor – and the balcony wall – has normal flooring tiles, but then upon closer examination the tiles are actually pages of text from Shakespeare’s plays! Arsenault’s detail really establishes the Shakespeare wonderland Constance finds herself in.

In this wacky wonderland, we have an all-star female cast firing on all cylinders. Orton is a genuine scene stealer, and that’s a tough statement given that the comedic talent here is simply astounding. Even Orton’s most miniscule physicalities as the scheming Iago are hilarious. Her knack for physical comedy is no doubt from her years of improv experience. And then there’s Stephen who plays the Constance as if she were a cat hoarder days away from appearing on some TLC reality show. It’s an understated performance that fits marvelously with the surrounding absurdity. Lynch channels her inner Xena, warrior princess, for Desdemona, and it’s fantastic. Paré plays the death-obsessed, if not suicidal, Juliet with zest – o happy dagger indeed! Carvajal plays brings plenty of meaty machismo to the male characters of Professor Night, Othello and Tybalt.

Handsome Alice Theatre’s debut production is ferociously funny. Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is a near-perfect introduction to this company dedicated to unleashing the female voice.


 

The Shakespeare Company & Handsome Alice Theatre & Hit & Myth Productions present Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Anne-Marie MacDonald, May 12 – 21 at Vertigo Theatre’s The Studio.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.shakespearecompany.com/current-season/goodnight-desdemona-good-morning-juliet/

The Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth Conjures Wicked Suspense

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Haysam Kadri (Macbeth) and Anna Cummer (Lady Macbeth) in The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ Macbeth, presented by Vertigo Theatre. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

In the entirety of William Shakespeare’s works, Macbeth (Haysam Kadri) and Lady Macbeth (Anna Cummer) are likely the most dysfunctional power couple. And it is all about power with the Macbeths, dominance and royal authority by any means necessary. There are other forces at work, too, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, forces that stare back from the abyss.

Presented by Vertigo Theatre, The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ Macbeth conjures wicked suspense through its striking lighting design, direction, and performances.

Directed by Craig Hall, Shakespeare’s Macbeth stages the rise (and fall) of its titular character as prophesied by a trio of witches. Here, the witches are a strange family whose members are a Child (Keelen McCauley), Mother (Julie Orton), and Father (Joel Cochrane). Returning from battle, Macbeth and Banquo (Nathan Schmidt) meet three witches who tell Macbeth that he will climb the ranks until finally becoming king of Scotland. Banquo’s descendants will become kings, the witches prophesy, but he will not. The witches disappear into the night, leaving the two men to wonder what truth, if any, their prophecies carry.

Unlike Hamlet where the main character mopes around until the very end, Macbeth cuts straight to the chase, making it one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays. Like Prince Hamlet, Macbeth is severely troubled by the idea of committing regicide. Lady Macbeth has to not only push her husband to take the crown, but also devise the plan to murder King Duncan (Stephen Hair) in order for him to do so. Macbeth greatly differs from Hamlet in that the play explores what happens when a seemingly good person takes innocent life, rather than focus solely on the act of killing itself. (Maybe if Hamlet hadn’t wrapped up so fast, audiences would have seen a young Prince Hamlet deal with that newly discovered part of himself). Macbeth doesn’t stop at King Duncan, but continues killing anyone who stands in his way, including his friend Banquo. Shakespeare seems to caution that once the threshold is broken, darker sides of a person are released.

Interestingly, Hamlet and Macbeth start off in almost the same way, with the appearance of supernatural forces that guide the (tragic) hero’s journey. While the witches count on Macbeth’s overconfidence to be his downfall, none of that is possible without Lady Macbeth, arguably the play’s main villain. She runs with the idea of Macbeth becoming king. Once Macbeth shows weakness in front of his wife, Lady Macbeth is quick to shame her husband for ‘not being a man’. Here, the director emphasizes that there is a genuine, if intense, love that exists within the relationship, making its corruption by Lady Macbeth even more poignant. Initially, Macbeth acts out of love and obedience to his wife, but then takes a path of his own, causing Lady Macbeth to severely regret her actions.

Speaking about corruption, Set Designer Hanne Loosen’s Scotland has a bit of a wasteland vibe to it with the heavy, brooding fog that fills the stage. The trees that loom overhead in the back hide secrets (and a dead body). Anton de Groot’s lighting design casts the Macbeth residence in hard light for the most part, with some soft light for the good guys like Macduff (Karl Sine). The lighting is very atmospheric and telling about the state of Scotland and the characters on stage. There is a general sense of dread that comes across with the way actors’ faces are shadowed.

What’s refreshing about Kadri’s Macbeth is the humour that the actor brings to the role. It’s welcomed relief from the grimness of the production. The humour works, too, with just how twisted, unhinged, and unpredictable Macbeth becomes near the end. Make no mistake, however, the actor is more than adept at playing the monster Macbeth soon becomes. Kadri delivers a compelling performance that slays, in more ways than one.

Cummer is absolutely enthralling as Lady Macbeth. The emotionally nuanced performance really digs itself deep under the character’s skin to bring out the darkness that lurks inside a seemingly good person. And who better to flesh out that darkness than Cummer, a magnificently articulate actress. Her power over Kadri’s Macbeth is absolute as her words sting like the most venomous snake in the jungle. The sleepwalk scene is made even more interesting by the fact Lady Macbeth’s crushing power turns against her, destroying her in the process.

The production runs 90 minutes, and in that 90 minutes Hall is able to establish a great number of things, particularly the supernatural/occult presence. Since the play is staged during the mid-late 19th century, there are no cauldrons or pointy witch hats, but instead the occult and symbols associated with it. Hall achieves great results with these elements as the supernatural not only feels otherworldly, but also as if it should not be summoned to begin with (like a Ouija board in the attic). Andrew Blizzard’s earth trembling sound design grants the supernatural even more terror.

The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ Macbeth is a thrilling night at the theatre.


The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ Macbeth runs March 30 – April 16 at Vertigo Theatre’s The Studio.

For more information about the show, including how to buy tickets, visit: http://www.shakespearecompany.com/current-season/macbeth/

 

LaBute’s The Money Shot Takes Aim at Hollywood, Fame

Ground Zero Theatre and Hit and Myth Production bring Neil LaBute's Hollywood satire The Money Shot to Calgary. From left to right: Joel Cochrane, Brianna Johnston, Daniela Vlaskalic, and Chantal Perron. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Ground Zero Theatre and Hit & Myth Production bring Neil LaBute’s Hollywood satire The Money Shot to Calgary. From left to right: Joel Cochrane, Brianna Johnston, Daniela Vlaskalic, and Chantal Perron. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Hollywood, the home of American cinema and celebrity. The average person can only dream of the sort of lavish lifestyles that the stars enjoy. But all that glitters is not gold, especially not in Tinseltown.

A vicious satire of Hollywood, Neil LaBute’s The Money Shot stages two aging movie stars desperate to make a comeback by any means necessary. The question is, is a comeback possible in such a toxic industry?

Directed by Ron Jenkins, The Money Shot sees Steve (Joel Cochrane), a greying action star, and his 24-year-old wife Missy (Brianna Johnston) visiting Karen (Daniela Vlaskalic) and Bev (Chantal Perron) at their luxurious Hollywood Hills home. The purpose of the visit is to discuss Steve and Karen’s latest film project which calls for the actors to have real sex on camera. Going that far for their art would undoubtedly revive their careers, say Steve and Karen to their respective partners, hoping to gain their approval.

And the audience might have sympathy for Steve and Karen if it were not for the fact that they both represent the worst of Hollywood stardom. Neither shows any grasp on reality, nor any capacity to think about anyone besides themselves. However, there is an important difference between the two actors in that Karen’s problems largely stem from the entertainment industry’s double standards against women

Ever since she came out as bisexual, Karen’s career has never been the same. Nowadays, Karen spends less time acting and more time trying to stay relevant through her lifestyle blog and advocacy, really any opportunity to have her name appear somewhere. And as the years pass, she feels herself fading from a world where all opportunity was once at her fingertips. Her world now belongs to young, beautiful starlets like Missy – even if they are as talentless as they are clueless.

In contrast, old age has ‘rewarded’ Steve with a wife half his age, executive producer credits, and an inflated ego. Although he may not get the parts he used to, Hollywood has shown itself to be much kinder to Steve than Karen, despite Steve being a downright despicable human being. Steve’s misogynistic, homophobic, and racist remarks are so brazen that one has to wonder if anyone besides Bev has ever dared challenge him. The sense is no, considering Steve doesn’t blink at the idea of physically defending his male privilege.

LaBute perhaps enjoys too much indulging in that which he criticizes, but Jenkins is careful to remind us of the play’s satirical nature. The characters in the room meet Cochrane’s utmost conviction in what he says with bewilderment, disbelief that someone could be that stupid. Jenkin’s attentive direction offers relief for the audience who might otherwise feel uncomfortable at the barrage of vulgarity LaBute launches our way. (Though, Jenkins has some difficulty keeping our interest near the end of the play’s two hour run).

In finding some nuance in LaBute’s brash, unapologetic script, Jenkins and company are able to draw big laughs from the audience.

Vlaskalic carries herself as if she’s on the Today Show, trying to peddle the latest fad with whatever sincerity Karen has left in her. Add in the dramatics of Norma Desmond (“I am big!”), and you have a stellar performance. Johnston plays Missy, the bubblegum actress (with the mouth of a sailor) with delight. Perron commands the stage as Bev with just the strength of her demeanor, and her eroding willpower to sit as the only sane person in this room flooded with narcissism. And these great performances give Cochrane plenty of room to play, buttons to push as he charges into each scene with Top Gun levels of confidence.

And JP Thibodeau’s exquisite set serves as a fitting backdrop for the blockbuster disaster that befalls the entire evening.

Ultimately, LaBute’s The Money Shot sinks its teeth into Hollywood, and takes a bite out of an industry that celebrates itself at any opportunity. Audiences will burst at the seams when they enter LaBute’s world of washed up talent and biting zingers. Ground Zero Theatre and Hit & Myth Productions deliver an uproarious evening at the theatre.


Ground Zero Theatre and Hit & Myth Production’s The Money Shot runs September 10 – 19 at Vertigo Theatre’s The Studio.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.groundzerotheatre.ca/upcoming.html