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/

Get Thee to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

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Left to Right: Braden Griffiths, Aaron Coates, and Geoffrey Simon Brown. Photo courtesy of Lunchbox Theatre.

A co-production by Lunchbox Theatre and The Shakespeare Company, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) blasts through the Bard’s 37 plays in one single evening with hilarious results.

Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a parody of all things Shakespeare performed by three actors. Braden Griffiths, Geoffrey Simon Brown, and Aaron Cotes perform the play as themselves, well really exaggerated versions of themselves. Preeminent Shakespearean scholar Coates carries all 37 plays in an enormous book, acting as director to the actors who sometimes get away from the original source material. Through slapstick and improv, the actors set out to accomplish the amazing feat of capturing all of Shakespeare’s works in one single theatrical experience.

Everything about the performance is deliciously over-the-top and absurd. Shakespeare’s tragedy Titus Andronicus is parodied as a very bloody cooking show. Then, the three white actors agree that neither one of them can play the character of Othello without being racially insensitive, so they decide to rap Othello from beginning to end. The histories are performed as a football game, with the actors tossing the crown from one king to another on the gridiron with sports commentary.

And Brown’s female characters are keen to vomit on the audience.

Director Kevin McKendrick’s firm hand makes for a well-tuned production. There is method in the madness, although sometimes there are moments or gags that fail to hit the mark. Even still, the sheer hilarity of three actors trying to perform 37 plays in under 90 minutes is enough to forgive minor missteps.

Griffiths, Brown and Coates would fit right in with the acting troupe from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The energetic trio are a lot of fun to watch as they rip through Shakespeare’s plays, smashing the fourth wall along the way.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) runs at Lunchbox Theatre until the 24th. As part of Lunchbox Theatre To Go, the play will be presented The Beddington Community Arts Centre (Storybook Theatre) starting April 27th.

Get thee to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), the silliest Shakespeare show around.


The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) runs April 19 – 24th at Lunchbox Theatre. The production runs April 27th – May 6th at The Beddington Community Arts Centre (Storybook Theatre). 

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/complete-works

 

 

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/

 

The Shakespeare Company Stages Refreshing Production of Romeo & Juliet

The Shakespeare Company's season opener Romeo & Juliet ran Oct 1 - 17 at Vertigo Theatre's Studio. Pictured: Lady Capulet (Chantal Perron), Nurse (Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan), and Juliet (Allison Lynch). Photo Credit: Ben Laird Photography.

The Shakespeare Company’s season opener Romeo & Juliet ran Oct 1 – 17 at Vertigo Theatre’s Studio. Pictured: Lady Capulet (Chantal Perron), Nurse (Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan), and Juliet (Allison Lynch). Photo Credit: Ben Laird Photography.

To this day, William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet continues to be read in nearly every high school across the country. Students read aloud the play, dissect its themes, then clumsily stage the famous balcony scene as part of their final project.

And so, by this point in time, there are very few who are not familiar with Shakespeare’s tragic love story, making it all the more challenging to stage. In their mind, audiences already know what to expect from Romeo & Juliet because the play is so well-known. The question then arises: how does one defy expectations and make Romeo & Juliet feel new once again?

Director Ron Jenkins answers that questions very well, thanks to a keen eye and stellar cast of actors.

Many will say that the feud between the Capulets and Montagues is what ultimately kills Romeo and Juliet, played by Eric Wigston and Allison Lynch, while others blame the irrational, hasty behaviour of its two main characters. Both are true, but it is the latter that Jenkins is truly concerned with in this production by The Shakespeare Company.

Here, Jenkins is not so interested in presenting the play as a tale of mean old adults versus unfairly treated teenagers. Instead, the director explores youth as a turbulent time where everything seems like the most important thing ever. That sort of immediacy is demonstrated best in Romeo, a mopey teen who’s made dumb by what he perceives as true love.

Wigston’s physicalities are big and oozing with passion (and hormones). The actor is particularly wild during the balcony scene, which he and Lynch play wonderfully. Wigston’s Romeo is reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman running away with Katharine Ross at the end of The Graduate, except he never reaches the bus. Wigston displays the sort of optimism that thinks love prevails in the end, even against an ancient family feud.

Of course, love doesn’t save Romeo and Juliet, because the feud is not only very real, but it is also very violent. The violence is well affirmed by Fight Director Karl Sine’s tight choreography. On top of being dreamy, Romeo is also a big dreamer.

Lynch plays Juliet as level headed as any 13 year old can be at that age. Because of Romeo, however, Juliet becomes a dreamer, too. We see Lynch, every so tenderly, make that journey from infatuated to completely swept up in Wigston’s enthusiasm. When everything falls apart at the end of the first act, we see Lynch play a tortured girl with no exit with tremendous force.

Juliet’s Nurse, played by a delightful Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan, is not blameless in this whole affair. Per this interpretation of the play, Juliet’s Nurse almost seems to play along with Romeo and Juliet, humouring them almost. In doing so, she becomes absorbed in their youthful spirit. And so, it is all fun and games until the gravity of the situation shakes the Nurse out of it and snaps her back to reality.

Jenkins offers plenty to chew on in this production of Romeo & Juliet, especially with the gender cross casting of Benvolio, played by a fierce Amy Burks. The play becomes more than about forbidden love, but the perils of being a teenager in a loveless world. Watching this production, how often do youth go astray because they feel that cannot confide in their parents? What happens when inexperienced youth are left to figure out life themselves? A lot, and sometimes they are things that cannot be undone.

The layers of depth Jenkins pursues are brilliantly staged in this refreshing production of an old classic. Jenkin’s confidence as a director is on full display from top to bottom. Those looking to fall in love with Romeo & Juliet again will want to catch this spirited production by The Shakespeare Company.


The Shakespeare Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet ran Oct 1 – 17 at Vertigo Theatre’s Studio. 

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.shakespearecompany.com/currentseason/