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Award-winning Canadian comedy lights up the GCTC stage

By Alejandro Bustos on November 30, 2013

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is a triumph of Canadian theatre.  First premiering in 1988, this brilliant comedy won playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald the Governor General’s Award as well as other prizes.

Playing at the Great Canadian Theatre Company until December 15, this work is proof that intellectually challenging plays can be a crowd-pleaser.

For those not familiar with the story, it revolves around Constance Ledbelly, a timid junior English professor at Queen’s University who is working on her doctoral thesis.  Constance speculates that William Shakespeare’s Othello and Romeo and Juliet were originally comedies, and that they were written by an unknown author.  She believes that she can prove this thesis by deciphering a mysterious manuscript by an alchemist named Gustav.

At the beginning of the play, Constance’s heart is broken by Professor Claude Night whom she loves, after he reveals that he is going to propose to another woman.  He makes things worse by disclosing that he is moving to Oxford University to take a position that she was hoping to get.

Disillusioned with her life, she starts throwing away her  papers into the garbage, before being sucked into the wastebasket and magically transported to the Island of Cyprus, where she lands in a real-life version of Othello.  After meeting the real, breathing Othello, Iago and Desdemona, she is subsequently transported to Verona where she comes across Romeo and Juliet.

Throughout the play, Constance seeks to discover the true author of these two classic theatrical works, an intellectual and emotional process that becomes a journey of self-discovery.

For the audience this play is a treat to watch.  The writing is fantastic, the plot ingenious and the action highly enjoyable.  The struggle for any company producing this show, however, is that it is a very difficult work to mount.  Any actor who tackles this piece must have significant artistic chops.

Is the current cast performing at the GCTC up to the challenge?  For the most part yes.  Sascha Cole, who made her Ottawa debut this past spring in a production of In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) at The Gladstone, is very good as Desdemona.  Pippa Leslie, meanwhile, is quite strong as the not-so-innocent Juliet.

Other parts of the play, however, were inconsistent.  For instance, at certain points some of the actors recited their lines at a very rapid pace.  This poses a problem for audience members not intimately aware with the plot, as even missing a little bit of the complex story can result in key information being lost.

This small bump notwithstanding, this is a play to savour.  The subject matter is so strong that you can’t help but marvel at this wonderful work, even if this particular production is not flawless.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is at the GCTC at 1233 Wellington St. West until December 15.  Showtimes are at 8 pm, Tuesday-Friday, Saturday at 4 and 8:30 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm.  Regular tickets start are $30, while less expensive last minute tickets can be obtained at noon on the day of each performance. The show tomorrow (Sunday) is pay what you can.