Hilberry combines comedy, Shakespeare and time travel in entertaining ‘Goodnight Desdemona’


Photo by Kevin Replinger
The Wayne State University Hilberry graduate theater company will perform “Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet” in rotating repertory with “Othello” through Feb. 9 at the Hilberry Theatre. For more information call 313-577-2972 or go to www.Hilberry.com. Othello, played by Chris Call (right), confronts Iago, played by Miles Boucher in the comedy.


By SUE SUCHYTA
If you enjoy Shakespeare and a good laugh, be sure to see Anne-Marie MacDonald’s “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)” at Wayne State’s graduate Hilberry Theatre. The show, directed by Anthony Schmitt, which opened Nov. 16, runs through Feb. 9 in rotating repertory with Shakespeare’s “Othello” and Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit.”

For tickets or more information call 313-577-2972 or go to www.Hilberry.com.

In “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)” Constance, a doctoral candidate is convinced that “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet” should have been comedies. She feels a lost handkerchief and a delayed wedding announcement are flimsy foundations for multiple deaths.

Since the rest of her life seems to be in chaos, Constance focuses her quixotic energy on deciphering a mysterious manuscript, which may contain a riddle relating to authorship and the an apparent omission of a wise fool, a literary device the Bard used to drive home a point without overtly offending his characters or audience.

It is also no secret that Shakespeare borrowed stories from other sources as the premise of his plays, which he manipulated into the literary gems we love today.

When Constance tosses her work into the trash in a fit of frustration, she ends up time traveling, first to Cyprus, where she prevents Othello from acting on Iago’s lies, then to fair Verona, where she prevents Romeo from interfering in the swordfight in which he distracted his friend Mercutio, which is when Tybalt moved in for the killing blow.

Since she changed history, Constance suddenly becomes very busy, since the characters’ flawed personalities have warped into overdrive. Even the ghost of Hamlet’s father takes the stage at one point, offering compelling clues.

Third year company member Vanessa Sawson is wonderful as Constance. She is a spunky atypical heroine which one can’t help but cheer on. She brings energy and focus to a very demanding role, and makes us both laugh and sigh.

Playwright MacDonald unexpectedly created two other very feisty female roles with her creation of a bloodthirsty Desdemona, who enjoys watching battles a little too much, and in Juliet, whose emotional immaturity has her grasping for highs in dramatic extremes – her character seems fascinated more with the drama of death than the rollercoaster of romance.

Chelsea Ortuno as Desdemona and Danielle Cochrane as Juliet make the most of the wonderful roles, bringing energy, impulsiveness and alacrity to their parts.

Chris Call is entertaining as Othello, the role model for clueless husbands, and Miles Boucher is a pleasingly creepy villain as Iago, the gold standard for liars.

Topher Payne, understudy for the ghost, turned in a fantastic performance opening night when Joshua Blake Rippy fell and injured his spine two days before opening, and had to curtail his movements per doctor’s orders.

Payne also plays Claude Night, Constance’s unscrupulous mentor, who gets the position she deserved and runs off with another woman. He plays the jerk one loves to hate with aplomb.

David Sterritt, as the sword-wielding Mercutio, doubles as the stunt coordinator. He creates some excitingly realistic swordplay.

Joshua Miller turns Tybalt’s personality from hothead to laidback cousin-in-law with rapid and amusing ease.

Ty Mitchell, as Romeo, ably brings out a new gender-bending side of Romeo’s character, and is very entertaining in his pursuit of Bacchanalian pleasure.

The entire company has its share of entertaining bits, from Sarah Hawkins Moan as Juliet’s nurse, Annie Keris as Ramona (the “other woman”) and Joe Plambeck as a hapless servant.

MacDonald creates character name parallels between the modern and Elizabethan scenes, with a Julie and Ramona in the present day mirroring the names of Juliet and Desdemona.

Sound designer Leah McCall has fun making the most of time travel, and lets us laugh with familiarity when we hear the theme song from “The Twilight Zone.”

Brian Scruggs’ lighting design is both fun and effective, and he has fun with the time-travel special effects as well.

The costumes are rich and vibrant, especially the jewel-toned fabrics of the well-to-do characters in both “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Not only does the show contain contemporary clothes, it has two sets of period costumes – and then it has characters in Verona cross-dressing to woo and deceive each other, so the costumer had to match several characters’ clothing in a different size for other characters of the opposite gender.

The ghost’s costume is subtly spooky as well, and seems to pay sly tribute to the current zombie craze with its many layers of tattered wrapped fabric.

Scenic designer Michael Wilkki created a versatile multi-level set to facilitate the need for balcony workspace in the “Romeo and Juliet” scenes. Constance’s office and Verona’s crypt move in and out on the main level as needed, and Hamlet’s ghost uses a downstage trap door to enter our realm.

Others providing stage magic include Kimbra Essex as the properties chair, Nira Pullin, whose dances are featured in Verona’s party scene, as the choreographer and Leazah Behrens as technical director (aka magic master).

The show will be onstage at 2 p.m. Wednesday with a talk back session after the show with company actors and designers. On Thursday, there is a 7:15 p.m. speaker-led discussion about the author, theme or production and technical aspects prior to the 8 p.m. performance.

The set then switches Nov. 30 to Dec. 8 to “Othello.” The Hilberry will be on winter break Dec. 9 to Jan. 9, and Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit” enters the repertory offerings with 8 p.m. Jan.11 and 12 shows and a 2 p.m. Jan. 16 matinee.

“Othello” offers its final performance at 8 p.m. Jan. 17, after which the set returns on Jan. 18 to “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet).” The show continues through Feb. 9 in rotating repertory.

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