2 min

Shakespeare class

Ann-Marie MacDonald makes an excellent nerd

QUEER EMBRACE. Ann-Marie MacDonald stars in the remount of her hit gender-bending play Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Credit: David Hawe

It’s rare treat to see the revival of a Canadian play on a grand scale, particularly a high-spirited farce like Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Written 14 years ago, when MacDonald was a precocious 28, it’s had more than 100 international productions and won the playwright an armload of awards.

Canadian Stage’s new production, directed by Nightwood Theatre’s Alisa Palmer, features the author and playwright herself playing the lead for the first time – at 42, MacDonald is finally old enough to play the mousy, 30-something academic Constance Ledbelly.

A perpetual grad student, toiling under the rakish professor Claude Night, Constance is obsessed with an improbable theory about Shakespeare’s Othello and Romeo And Juliet.

Since the tragedy in both plays turns on such trivial blunders as a lost handkerchief and a delayed letter, Constance surmises that they might instead be comedies.

And with that, like Alice through the rabbit hole, Constance is whisked into her wastebasket and deposited directly into the plays to test her theory firsthand. Her initial destination is Cyprus, where she foils Iago’s attempt to turn Othello against Desdemona, but leaves further calamities in her wake. Next she’s sent to Verona, just in time to prevent Romeo from killing Tybalt, but enchanting both the star-crossed young lovers in the process.

By the end of two hours and 15 minutes, Desdemona’s found her way to Verona, Juliet has conned Constance into a kiss and Romeo’s sporting a dress.

Full of suggestive puns, gender-bending, swordplay and written largely in iambic pentameter, the ambitious script bears a few rough spots – an overly long first act and a handful of dated references. But its shortcomings are more than redeemed by MacDonald’s delightful use of language and her contagious exuberance.

Under the lively direction of Palmer, the action zips along, buoyed by a wonderful cast that includes a majestic Alison Sealy-Smith (Desdemona), a scene-stealing Juan Chioran playing Othello, Tybalt and Professor Claude Night, a fresh-faced Cara Pifko as a horny teenaged Juliet and Andy Velasquez as a delightfully devious Iago and a gay Romeo.

At the heart of the action, MacDonald makes a wonderfully nerdy Constance, wisely taking a subtle approach to the to the role – a choice that ultimately makes for greater laughs and allows her stellar supporting cast to shine as well. It’s a classy choice by Toronto theatre’s original class act.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) continues until Sat, Apr 14 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St E); call 368-3110.