Kennedy Theatre
From left are James Hesla, Kimberly Rose-Wolter
and Stephanie Sanchez.

‘Desdemona’ a comic
and satiric masterpiece

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin

WHAT sweet perfection! Kennedy Theatre's production of Ann-Marie MacDonald's "Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)" is comic yet serious, silly yet profound, substantial yet thoroughly entertaining. The script is a masterpiece. Director Juli Burk and her five-person cast brilliantly bring it to life.

Two Shakespearean tragedies - "Othello" and "Romeo and Juliet" - provide the foundation, but no knowledge of either is required, although people familiar with them will be impressed by MacDonald's knowledge and appreciation of the Bard's work.

Our heroine, assistant professor Constance Ledbelly (Stephanie Sanchez), thinks her mentor is proposing when he shows her an engagement ring. After all, she's been his loyal peon, unacknowledged researcher, and ghostwriter for years. So much for her! The ring is for another and the prof has landed a plum position for himself and the bimbo at a bigger university. As for Constance? He's fixed her up with a job in the sticks!

The setup may sound tedious but it is brilliantly handled and beautifully embellished with sharp references to various aspects of life in the contemporary academic jungle - oily-mouthed students with transparently lame excuses for missing assignments, senior faculty who appropriate the research of lower-ranking professors and teaching assistants, the doctrine of "publish or perish," tenure, political correctness, humorless feminists and various conspiracy theories about who actually wrote Shakespeare's plays.

Constance theorizes that "Othello" and "Romeo and Juliet" are atypical Shakespearean tragedies because he lifted them from the works of an unknown contemporary. She's contemplating the wretchedness of her personal situation when she suddenly finds herself transported to Othello's castle - and just in time to thwart Iago's plot. Iago is still villainous, but other things aren't as Shakespeare described them. Othello isn't a Moor; Desdemona is a hard-fighting Amazon type.

A plot twist or two later and familiar dialogue is heard in a new context as the disgraced Iago slyly allows Desdemona to make him confess his suspicions regarding her husband and the mysterious Constance. The reversal is brilliant. The audience witnessed the original exchange between Iago and Othello prior to our heroine's arrival so even those who've never seen "Othello" understand the nuances of the new situation.

Similar complications ensue when Constance is swept off to Verona. Once again she averts the scripted tragedy, but this time in attire that causes her to be mistaken for a boy. As "Constantine" she becomes the target first of Romeo's lust - and is then pursued by Juliet and Tybalt as well.

Sanchez does a fabulous job as a comedienne. She's got great stage presence, her delivery is perfect, and she negotiates the occasional indignities of physical comedy with aplomb. Imagine a plucky and semi-PC Mary Richards. What a performance!

Steven C. Brown distinguishes himself as the bisexual Romeo, as Iago, a ghost, and the narrator (played as a low-budget Rod Serling). James Hesla is equally delightful as Othello, Tybalt, Professor Claude Night and Juliet's nurse. Nicole Tessier (Juliet and supporting roles) and Kimberly-Rose Wolter (Desdemona and supporting roles) complete an excellent cast.

This is a stronger, more impressive show than last fall's serious production of "Romeo and Juliet" at Kennedy, and this play too requires the actors to believably traverse Shakespearean dialogue.

Joseph D. Dodd (scenic design), Sandra Finney (costumes), Mark Boyd (lighting/technical direction), Tony Pisculli (fight choreography) and Megan Evans (assistant direction) collectively create a striking and functional environment for the actors' performances. If reviews were grades "Desdemona" would earn an A+.

Stage review

What: "Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)"
When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Kennedy Theatre
Tickets: $10 or $12
Call: 956-7655

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