Centered around the perplexed and troubled life of its protagonist, “Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet” is a fantastical story that uses an array of characters to dive deep into two of Shakespeare’s most storied works.
Director Robert Kristel and his cast of five performed the show, which ran from Nov. 14-18 in Tyler Hall’s Lab Theatre. The Lab Theatre provided a personal experience, as the characters of the play were often feet away from the audience. The intimate setting was very effective during several Shakespearian sword fighting scenes and in lead character Constance Ledbelly’s frequent soliloquies.
Constance Ledbelly, played by Clarissa Bawarski, is a misunderstood and often misinterpreted assistant professor who is struggling with serious self-doubt. Bawarski added a necessary quirkiness and sincerity to the role, as the audience spends most of the play inside Constance’s head, both figuratively and, at times, literally.
Frustrated by a lack of appreciation by her superior Professor Claude Night, played strongly by John Limer-Nies, Constance’s reality is consumed with trying to crack a code that she claims holds a hidden connection between Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and “Othello.” When a mysterious being enters the story, billed simply as “Ghost” and played by Nathan Edwin Keep, Constance is transported back in time and wakes up in Cyprus within the story of “Othello.”
The duration of “Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet” is an internal battle for Constance, played out not just in Shakespearian “Cyprus,” but also in Shakespearian “Verona” during the time of “Romeo and Juliet.” Armed simply with a mastery of the two stories, Constance must avoid an assortment of dangers, including a premature death within the constructs of the stories she is inhabiting. Somewhere between avoiding Iago, also played by Nathan Edwin Keep, and the angry swords of the Capulets and Montagues, Constance realizes that her quest is not about rediscovering the characters of Shakespeare’s stories, but rather the characters of the stories helping her rediscover herself.
Robin Rubeo was a standout as the famous “Othello” character Desdemona. The ferocity in her presence and strong delivery of her extensive dialogue was ideal for the character. There was a depth to Rubeo’s performance that made her scenes particularly captivating.
Nathan Edwin Keep proved his stamina as three characters in the play, most notably as the cunning Iago of Cyprus. First introduced as the Ghost, then as Iago and finally as Romeo of Verona, Keep’s presence was felt strongly in the play. He performed Iago and the Ghost with a similarly sly demeanor. While he performed the latter of the three roles, Romeo, effectively and with great energy, it was questionable to cast the same performer as the Ghost in the naive, silly role of Romeo.
The play had great pacing in act two and three, but struggled to move through an exhausting act one. This seems more a fault of the writing than of the director or performers; act one was about twice the number of pages it needed to be. Once the play landed on the other side of act one into Cyprus, however, the whole cast received a boost of energy, particularly Bawarski, who got better with each scene.
A highlight of the play was the performance of freshman Shanna Fuld as Juliet. She appears in act one as one of Constance’s students and in Cyprus as a servant, but from the moment she appears on stage as the breath-taking young Capulet, she demands the audience’s attention. Fuld’s reckless emotions captured the immaturity of Juliet very well. Her and Keep provided many laughs as the famed “star-crossed lovers” in scenes where they found themselves crying over their dead pet turtle or out of boredom in their prematurely married life.
A credit must be given to the directing touch of Robert Kristel, as he made excellent choices in set design and blocking, which fully utilized the space they performed in. There was one set the entire show, with quick black-outs allowing for small changes to set pieces without a full scale changeover. The simplicity of the set worked well with the internal battles raging in Constance’s mind- the universal nature of the set created the feel that we were truly inside of Constance’s head.
“Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet” was a fun show that challenged its audience with pregnant, witty dialogue and existential questions.