A Feminist Battle Cry: A Review of Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet

Wednesday night, I joined a half-full house at the Barbara Barrett Theatre to enjoy Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet by Canadian playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald, which is produced by the students of the Memorial University diploma in Stage and Screen Technique. Every year, I look forward to going to support these students, and as a graduate of the program myself, I couldn’t wait for the show to start to see what the students were working on all semester.

Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet, directed by Jordan Janes and Andrew Preston, follows Constance Ledbelly, an assistant professor, working her way day to day shadow writing for her boss, Professor Claude Night, and also trying to crack the code of the Gustav Manuscript, which would help her prove her theory that maybe Shakespeare’s tragedies could easily be comedies if there was a fool involved in the story. More specifically, with the stories of Othello, and Romeo and Juliet. Before our eyes, Constance is transported to both of these worlds, as she is forced to play the part in these well-known stories, to help her research her theory, but also make discoveries about her own life.

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The technical aspects of this show were well constructed. The lighting, designed by Lucas Ings-Simms, clearly portrayed each world vividly and was one of the coolest lighting schemes I have seen in the Barbara Barrett Theatre, including the use of a scrim, allowing for a shadow effect, and the blend of bright colours, making it very whimsical. The sound design, done by Elizabeth Dane, was also very delightful, and actually caught my attention many times. This includes both pre-show music, which was an 80’s dance party, and the design of the cues within the show, both served a purpose and increased the magic on stage. Along with the technical aspect, I would be amiss to leave out mention of the absolutely beautiful costumes, designed by Susan Jarvis and Natalie Haire, and the fantastic, colourful set, designed by James Byrne.

If there is one thing to love about this script, it is the female empowerment it brings to these classic Shakespearean characters. MacDonald turns these characters inside out, especially Juliet, and shows that may female roles in Shakespearean work gets an “innocence” wash over it, when in reality, they are strong, and powerful, and bring a lot to the stories themselves. Leading this cast are the three female leads, Sarah Parsons as Desdemona, Elizabeth Dane as Juliet, and Erika Squires as Constance. The acting as a whole was very good, and these three very talented ladies brightened up the stage and script with their own spin on these classic characters. I applaud the entire class on their hard work, both onstage and off, and it the quality of this program at MUN shines with projects like this. Other shout outs include Colin O’Keefe as Professor Claude Night, who was very convincing, and very committed to the character. 

Erika squires as Constance Ledbelly

Erika squires as Constance Ledbelly

There were a few little production things I noticed while watching this show. The music cues cut out very abruptly which sometimes took me out of the scene for a minute. I think the set organization and set changes may have needed a little more choreographing just to make sure everyone was on the same page, and with a set of this caliber on a small stage, that can be very difficult, but a bit tighter change would keep people interested with what was happening. I also noticed some small diction issues and volume issues. Sometimes I had trouble hearing because of low volume, and other times it was because of yelling which caused a muffling of words. Other than these small aspects, the show ran very smoothly.

If you have a chance to see this show, I highly recommend it. Not only is it a fun night out, but it is also going to help support this diploma program and these wonderful students who put their heart and soul into these projects because it is what they love, and what they want to do forever. Especially where St. John’s does not have a degree option for production or performance (... still not sure why this is), this diploma is important for our future directors, actors, designers, etc, to be able to get the necessary training needed.

With a run time of two and a half hours and a ten minute intermission, Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet runs from November 28- December 1 at the Barbara Barrett Theatre. Tickets are still available and you can purchase them here.