Lights come up. On one side of the stage, Othello smothers his wife, Desdemona. On the other side, Juliet wakes to find Romeo lying dead and stabs herself. In the middle of the stage, a woman stands behind a desk scattered with papers, looking frustrated and perplexed. Blackout.
This scene opens the spring play, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), a comedy by Anne-Marie MacDonald.
The story follows Constance Ledbelly, an assistant professor at Oxford University, who argues that two of Shakespeare’s plays are not his own. She believes Othello and Romeo and Juliet were written as comedies, and Shakespeare turned them into the tragedies we know and love.
Director of Theater John Reese was immediately drawn to the intelligence of the script. “There is imagination and the writing is very clever. It blends classical theater with contemporary theater, which is unique,” he said.
The play poses challenges for everyone involved. The actors have swordfights to stage and complicated, iambic pentameter lines to deliver. The director has to move from one story to another without losing the audience. The scenic director and set designers have to create three completely different yet intertwined universes.
The play was originally written in 1988 for five actors, each one playing up to four roles. Deerfield’s cast has been increased to seven roles to accommodate the talent presented at this term’s auditions, but each actor still plays two or more roles.
Although multiple roles are difficult for some, Emilela Thomas-Adams ’12 finds them quite easy. “Each of the two characters I play is specifically different from the other,” she said. “It’s pretty easy to establish clearly separate characteristics, and that makes it easier to switch between the two.”
Mr. Reese anticipates a positive response from audiences. “These are Shakespeare plays with which the student body is very familiar since they read both tragedies in their freshman and sophomore years.”
Goodnight Desdemona is a farce, meaning the audience knows more than the characters themselves. Mr. Reese explained that the audience “knows the truth; they know everything the characters don’t. That makes acting in a farce more difficult than in a more serious play.” The comedy comes from seeing characters stumble blindly through their own traps. Though harder to perform, the genre can be fun to work with, in Mr. Reese’s opinion.
Members of the cast seem to agree. “The script is not particularly deep or meaningful, but the combination of the complex plots and themes of Shakespeare’s plays and the clumsiness of the main character is wonderfully comical,” Thomas-Adams said.
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is currently playing in the Black Box Theatre through Saturday, May 29th.