Toronto
2 min

Where art thou?

Search for identity is Constance

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

Times change, but a good story remains the same.



It’s been 13 years since Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) first wooed Canadian audiences. The play has since been produced from coast to coast countless times and garnered the prestigious Governor General’s drama award and a Chalmers.



The production opening tonight (March 22) at Canadian Stage will once again be directed by Alisa Palmer, who has helped shaped the play since day one. MacDonald herself will perform for the first time in the lead role of Constance Ledbelly, the mousy academic who is sucked through a vortex in her wastepaper basket into the worlds of Othello and Romeo And Juliet.



“It’s still about the same thing – the quest for identity,” says MacDonald. “There’s really only one great storyline and that’s it.”

The show’s popularity doesn’t mean it’s mainstream.

When Constance enters Romeo And Juliet, Juliet (played by Cara Pifko) falls for her thinking she’s a gay boy. Juliet dresses up as another gay male to attract her, but when Juliet realizes that Constance is a woman, she’s game for that, too. Included in the high-powered cast are Juan Chioran (as Othello and other characters), Alison Sealy-Smith (Desdemona) and Andy Velasquez (Romeo).



“It brings queer and straight culture into the same embrace,” says Macdonald. “By putting women and queers right at the centre of the story, it opens the canon up. Some people think of Shakespeare as part of a patriarchal canon, but I see his plays as more human than that – there’s always been the potential for this kind of opening.



“People in the straightest, most far-flung areas were ready for it,” says Macdonald. “You can never discount an audience based on demographic. People are ready for almost anything you offer with a generous spirit.”



Even if the show is the same, times have changed since it was first produced. “The lesbian, gay and gender-bending content is more part of the popular imagination now than in the ’80s,” says Alisa Palmer. “Which means that even more people will have access to those aspects of the show.



“The whole idea of a continuum of sexuality and gender used to kind of stump some audiences.”



Things have also transformed for MacDonald and Palmer themselves. They have become one of Canada’s most renowned duos, working together on a number of acclaimed productions including The Attic, The Pearls And Three Fine Girls and Anything That Moves.



The pair also progressed from working partners, to friends, to living together as a couple.



“We really know each other now,” says Palmer, “which means we have a lot of communication short cuts that really pay off on stage.”



When asked about how they manage to put their work aside in their personal time together, Palmer just laughs: “Put the work down? Why would we want to do that? We don’t even try.”



GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA (GOOD MORNING JULIET).

$20-$69. Mon PWYC.

Thu, Mar 22-Apr 14.

(416) 368-3110.