Monday, June 1, 2015

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)—NW Classical Theatre—SE Portland

The Wise Fool

This comedy is playing at the Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave. through June 21st.  It is written by Ann-Marie MacDonald and directed by Brenan Dwyer.  For more information, go to their site at

According to this story, there are still some unanswered questions about Shakespeare and his plays.  ‘Tis true, as there are still some questions in some people’s minds, as to the authorship of those plays.  In this case, it is that there are possibly missing scenes and characters from his tales, or a “wise fool” who will explain some of the mysteries or inconsistencies if we could just crack the code.  Of course it is well known that Mr. S. “borrowed” the actual stories from other sources.  But what is not known is if the plays, as we’ve seen them, do not have certain scenes or characters missing from them, possibly lost forever, that would explain gaps in the plots.

One question is, why are such plots in the tragedies hinged on such feeble or trivial contrivances; why do the “heroes” accept so readily such flimsy evidence; and why do the villains, pictured as stout-hearted gents, all of a sudden, for little or no reason, turn on those closest to them.  This play’s contention is that the tragedies were simply meant to be “comedies turned upside down.”  Or, comedy and tragedy are simply different sides of the same coin.  One contention is, since there are so many fools or clowns peppered throughout his tragedies, often wiser than their masters, then they may have the true answer as to the Bard’s intention with those so called tragedies, if one could just break the code.

Such examples are the Fool in King Lear, or the Gravediggers in Hamlet or the Porter in Macbeth, et al.  In this story the concentration is on the main characters in Othello and Romeo and Juliet.  The tale starts out with a mousy, little school teacher, Constance (Rebecca Ridenour), madly in love with her Professor (Ashleigh Bragg) and writing his papers for him so that he can get tenure.  But he has eyes for another… “and thereby hangs a tale” for another story.  But Constance’s main desire in life is to see if the Bard’s stories were altered, from what they were meant to be and, if changed into Romances and/or Comedies, what would they look like.

She gets her chance to find out as she, too, like Dorothy being whisked off to Oz or Alice sliding down the rabbit hole, is swept back to the betrayal of the apparently naïve, Othello (Bragg) by his devious, right-hand man, Iago (Denna Wells) by pulling the incriminating handkerchief of Desdemona’s from Iago’s pocket and thus changing the outcome of the story.  She also meets a very headstrong Desdemona (Melissa Whitney), who by no means appears to be anybody’s victim.

All good?  Wrong!  If you alter a story and it plays out on its own, leaving them to their own devices, you then have a different story, which may not comply to your wishes (unless you’re the author, of course).  Won’t be a spoiler and tell you what happens…

She also inserts herself into the R&J story and immediately stops the crucial fight between Tybalt and Romero by revealing that R&J are married and so Tybalt (Bragg), being a cousin of Juliet’s (Bonnie Auguston), is now kin to Romeo (Wells) and they should kiss (or at least shake hands) and make up.  This means, of course, that R&J are now a married, meaning that the “star-crossed” lovers are now, perhaps, a cross-eyed, old married couple.  Again, more I cannot tell you…

Constance eventually finds some answers from one of the clowns who is only partly exposed.  I won’t tell you who, but I’ll give you a hint by paraphrasing an old adage, “a fool and his ‘head’ are soon parted.”  The play (MacDonald) works on more than one level.  It celebrates the power of the female; it quite effectively mixes genders, widening the casting possibilities for all roles; and it brings up an unanswered question as to history, if one could go back in time and change something, like assassinating Hitler before he came to power, would you?  Be careful what you wish for because you may be the Changer of the future but not the Author of its outcome.  Such great authors as Serling, Bradbury, Vonnegut, et. al. have played with those possibilities with varying results.  This story’s conclusion works well, too.

Dwyer has had no easy task (nor the actors) of putting this play together.  A cast of 5 brilliant ladies playing about 15 or more roles must have given them a sense of multiple personalities.  But Dwyer has managed to keep it all straight, simple and stream-lined for an audience’s appreciation.  And the interpretation of these roles, once altered from their original form, are quite amusing and enlightening.  Bragg, as Othello, still retains his sense of suspicion of people even when the plot is altered and, as Tybalt, may now be just one of the “good ole boys” but still retains his hot-headedness.  Well done.

Whitney, as Desdemona, gives us the fire within her and pictures her as a no-nonsense woman.  She is equally convincing as the ditzy girlfriend of the Professor.  A fine actor.  Auguston, as Juliet, starts off as a bit of a scatter-brain, then becomes quite bold in her desires, and finally gives us the bored, housewife look.  An inventive and well-rounded performance.  Wells is exceptional as the conniving Iago, who is obviously smarter than his cohorts, and is quick to change his game-plan on a moment’s notice to still get his desired outcome.  And her Romeo falls from grace as a romantic icon to just an average Joe and is it quite believable.  Hope to see her talent more often on the boards.

And Ridenour is amazing.   As this mousy, backward, little nothing, that she starts out to be, then steps boldly up and attempts to change artistic history.  What a terrific transformation!  She is an actor to watch and will astound us again onstage, I’m sure.

I highly recommend this show.  If you do go to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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