Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)
Also see Richard's review of The Other Place
Joshua Cook directs the startlingly witty collision of Othello and Romeo and Juliet by Ann Marie MacDonald, which first debuted in 1988. The story follows an assistant professor on the brink of losing everythingnot unlike any good tragic gal from the late 1400s or early 1500s. The adorable Valleri Dillard plays that modern, eager-to-please grad student, Constance Ledbelly.
But misery loves company, and soon we meet both Desdemona and Juliet: equally doomed, for equally pointless reasons, in their own familiar worlds. Desdemona (the hilarious Laura Singleton) is obviously hundreds of years ahead of her own time, and Juliet (the even more hilarious Tasha Zebrowski) is just a lunatic of Hamlet-like proportions.
Throw in the down-to-earth Ms. Dillard, as a devoted student of Shakespeare's women, and the old Elizabethan model of "saintly women being horribly wronged" is suddenly rendered obsolete. Thanks to the three of them, Queen Elizabeth I's famous "clown white" make-up may now be strictly reserved for clowns.
Brandon Atkins is Ms. Ledbelly's smarmy advisor in the English Department, blithely using her to get himself transferred out of Canada's frozen tundra. But he'll return, like a farmhand in The Wizard of Oz, as the bold and brave Othello, when the young woman's life has utterly collapsed. Ben Ritchie is right at home as an earnest Iago (or so it seems ...) till Constance moves in too, in sunny Venice.
Later, of course, the whole thing veers wildly over to Romeo and Juliet, where we learn that 13 years old is ridiculously young for a bride. Maxwell Knocke is funny as her newly minted husband. But in the end, it's the three young women, Constance at the center, whose lives interlock in the most fascinating way.
And, in another echo of Wizard of Oz, the English Lit scholar learns a valuable lesson of her own: that playing the fool can sometimes be a life-saving, life-affirming goal, for both yourself and others. Though of course everyone thinks they're better off as the doomed star of the piece. The actual truth is a wonderful gift, especially for those times when you find yourself surrounded by big, dominating personalities.
Through February 2, 2014, at the South Campus of Washington University, just east of the Esquire Theatre (in the old CBC prep school building). For more information visit www.placeseveryone.org. (If I were to "rate" this, like the Motion Picture Association, I suppose I'd give it a PG-13.)