Goodnight Squanders Talent Dreaming of a Better Script


Goodnight Desdemona

(Good Morning Juliet)

by Ann-Marie MacDonald

directed by Jose Zayas

at the Loeb Experimental Theater


May 4 and 6 at 7:30 p.m.

May 5 at 7 and 9:30 p.m.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), currently at the Loeb Ex, leaves one in mourning for the play it could have been.

The cast is one of the most talented, cohesive and dexterous to grace a Harvard stage in some time; and for a few aching moments, at the opening of the play, they give us scenes from Shakespeare that are truly lovely. The fond hope arises in one's breast-- perhaps they will abandom the sophomoric Shakespearean parody into which they have been forced and perform Twelfth Nightor As You Like It. instead.

They don't, of course.

Instead, they carry out the tedious antics of Ann-Marie Macdonald's play for two and half frustrating hours, each singing his character's one note with admirable fidelity until the bitter end. It is impossible to know just how they would have managed with real Shakespeare--perhaps there would be some wobbling in those higher ranges that the present play does not attempt--but a glorious failure would have been at least more satisfying than this perfectly executed trifle.

Goodnight Desdemona is that fear some creature, the play within a play Constance Ledbelly (Lindsey Richardson), a frumpish assistant professor from Queens, is struggling with the slings and arrows of outrageous academia. She endures an arrogant and exploitative senior professor, his disdainful girlfriend, and the ridicule of her peers, who dismiss her theory that Romeo and Juliet and Othello were adapted by Shakespeare from lost originals in which they were comedies.

Soon enough, through some incoherent bit of comic book magic, Constance is sucked through her trashcan into the world of Othello, just as Iago is about to play his fatal trick and convince the Moor to murder his wife, Desdemona. Constance exposes the deception and goes on to become Othello's favorite and Desdemona's best friend. She learns, as she had long suspected, that the "real" Desdemona is no fainting flower; rather, she yearns for a life of combat, such as she assumes Constance must enjoy in the Kingdom of Academe.

From this moment on, the play elaborates the blindingly original premise that modern life would appear pretty silly if described in Elizabethan English. When Constance, who soon slips into iambic pentameter like all the other characters, describes someone as a creep and Desdemona is mystified, she says absent-mindedly: "Creep--it's colloquial for 'base and noisome knave."'

Later on, the warlike Desdemona misinterprets Constance's complaint about the "sacred cows" of Academe and announces her desire to slay the bovine monsters. It is this level of misunderstanding--the utterly conventional and predictable--that MacDonald's play attains, and never attempts to surpass.