Wednesday, January 20, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)
Author: Ann-Marie MacDonald
My Categories: Short Play
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Short Shorts

This is the first play I've read since high school, so my play-reading and play-digesting skills are rusty. My comments will probably reflect that. Given how much I enjoy watching plays, particularly the indie ones and ones with minimal sets/costumes/etc., I'm surprised I haven't picked up plays to read. The good news is that I thoroughly enjoyed this play and hope to read more.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is such a clever piece of dramatic theater with marvelous play on words. It's action-packed with swashbuckling scenes, series of disguises, and real swordplay. McDonald takes actual Shakespearean dialogue from his two plays Othello and Romeo and Juliet, bends the scenes to include her modern-day character, mashes the action up by putting characters from both plays in one scene, and has everyone talking Shakespearean with her own made-up dialog. So cleverly, wittily, and tightly written.

Constance Ledbelly is a junior lecturer at Queen's University in the Renaissance English department. She's in love with Professor Night, who takes advantage of her by making her write his papers, lectures, and talks for him. She, of course, entertains hopes of marrying him, or barring that, being recommended by him to a position at Oxford that is coming up. He brings her back to earth by taking up that position himself and proposing to a rival student.

In the meantime, Constance is pursuing an obscure thesis premise. She's convinced that Othello and Romeo and Juliet were meant to be comedies and not tragedies. She believes that they were originally written as comedies but Shakespeare took those plays, deleted the role of the Wise Fool—such a necessary character in comedies—from them, and turned them into tragedies. So Constance is on the search for the Original Author. She has in her possession an indecipherable manuscript called the Gustav Manuscript, which she believes will reveal all.

From this improbable beginning, the play only becomes more implausible. But you have to give reality the heave-ho in order to enjoy this play.

Constance is propelled through a modern wormhole in the middle of the tragic turning points of both plays, one after the other. She attempts to save first Desdemona, then Juliet, from their terrible ends, and unintentionally ends up turning the tragedies into comedies. As she interrupts and turns the murderous and amorous impulses of the cross-dressing characters (Othello, Tybalt, Desdemona, Romeo, Iago, and Juliet) into more sensible courses of action, she realizes that she's the Original Author and the Wise Fool herself.

(There were two other characters, Chorus and Ghost, whose function I did not understand. Is the Chorus the narrator/oracle? Is the Ghost her conscience? These are probably theater stalwarts and play well-established roles, but my lack of experience in the theatrical arts showed up here.)


SonomaLass said...

I'm glad you liked it! It was challenging and fun to direct.

Keira Soleore said...

So glad you brought the play to my notice. If you have any more recs, do send them my way.

Dorine said...

Interesting choice and great idea. I don't think I've ever read a play even though I love seeing them. Will have to read some in the future.

Keira Soleore said...

Dorine, thanks for visiting and commenting. It was a really interesting play. Hope you get a chance to read it or see it performed.