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One of the final lines of this play is also its title: “Goodnight Desdemona. Good morning, Juliet.”
We were sketching our way through this scene for the first time sometime last week, when I stopped the actors. They all slumped to the ground, relieved to be stopped partway through a complicated scene. Rebecca plays Constance, the Shakespearean academic sucked into the plays of Othello and Romeo and Juliet, who has the wonderful gift of being able to say this line (that’s sarcasm – it’s a hard line). She let out a sigh and scrunched up her nose as I approached and ask her, “what the heck does that mean? Why do you say the title of the play there?” And then we all threw down our scripts and stomped around and shook our fists at the sky because we were running up against one of those stupid, miniature roadblocks that are actually the majority of the rehearsal process.
Then the epiphanies started rolling.
“Well, Desdemona dies when Othello comes to bed at night…” says Deanna Wells, who plays several characters including Romeo and Iago. “And Juliet dies when she wakes up to see Romeo dead on top of her.”
*DING!* Epiphany 1: Constance, who after a couple nasty bangs on the head, a sudden heartbreak, and career suicide, falls through her trashcan into these plays, begins to change the plots. She acts out a sublimated version of her own academic thesis by playing the role of a Fool, therefore turning these classic tragedies into comedies. So, Desdemona isn’t smothered. Juliet doesn’t die. In short, they’re safe to go to sleep and wake up without harm.
Later, we’re rehearsing the dumb show that starts the play where the murders of Desdemona and Juliet are acted out silently as written in Shakespeare’s plays. I’ve blocked Melissa, who plays Desdemona, to do a pilates-worthy slow lie down as she’s smothered, while Bonnie, who plays Juliet, bolts straight up from her slumber to discover dead Romeo and the dagger. We commence rehearsing the action, when:
“Oooooh I get it!” Bonnie shouts, stopping us, charmingly. We all laugh, and encourage her to tell us what’s up. “She’s lying down while I’m getting up. Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet. Get it?”
*DING!* Epiphany 2. The physical action mirrors the words. Desdemona lying down is like going to sleep; Juliet sitting upright is like waking up. As simple and obvious as this sounds, it’s helpful to find a physical connection to these Themes with a capital T.
Oh yes, the Themes. The safety of Desdemona and Juliet is, of course, a metaphor for Constance’s self-actualization. By transforming their fates, she has transformed her own. By determining their continuation, she has asserted her own ability to move on from a low, humiliating moment in her life. But the actors don’t care about that more than peripherally. They care about how they can play that moment, which can feel like the author’s (Ann-Marie MacDonald’s) Jungian thesis blotting the drama with a rather bold stroke of Theme.
I sense that the trend in popular theater is toward hyper-naturalism. We see cross-sections of living rooms, people texting lines of dialogue, we expect blood and drunkenness to be as close to the real deal as possible. In truth, most theater is poetry, and Goodnight Desdemona is especially so. I mean, good lord, the woman falls down her trashcan, we’re not exactly looking at O’Neill here. The Themes, the Metaphorical Subtext are important, though hard as heck to play in a way that is engaging, active, and entertaining.
So, *DING!* Epiphany 3 is for me as a director is to embrace Thematic moments like this as poetry. The rich, deep metaphorical stuff that makes up Shakespeare’s best work, and leaves me working with my actors on a half page scene lifted from Romeo and Juliet for an hour and a half and still have more to say. The poetry that keeps Tennessee Williams poignant and Sarah Ruhl captivating in its vagueness. This sort of stuff that has room for interpretation can be cheesy and alienating if done incorrectly, but rich and thought-provoking when done well.
But by watching the moment, like meditation, by thinking it and feeling it and encouraging all the small epiphanies, we drill down to make lines like this significant, specific, and exciting. It doesn’t have to make Sense with a capital S. It just has to feel right.
-Brenan Dwyer, director
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)
By Ann-Marie MacDonald
May 22-June 21
Tickets and information at nwctc.org
Northwest Classical Theatre Company concludes its seventeenth season withGoodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), an action-packed, hilarious homage to Shakespeare and the people who love his plays. This production will be the last for the company in its current format; moving forward NWCTC will no longer keep a resident acting company nor claim the Shoebox Theatre as its home.
In Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), Constance Ledbelly, a Shakespearean scholar, postulates that two of the Bard’s best-known tragedies, Othello and Romeo and Juliet, are based on comedic source material. Constance researches firsthand when she takes a tumble into her trashcan and lands in the worlds of the plays where her presence rapidly causes the plots and characters to change: Iago and war-like Desdemona team up, death-obsessed Juliet and bi-curious Romeo tire quickly of marriage, and Constance is tasked with finding the author of it all.
Join us for this adventurous production before we say goodnight to Northwest Classical Theatre Company as we know it, and stay tuned for more details on the rebirth and continuation of the company as we near the season’s end.
For tickets or more information go to: www.nwctc.org
Directing Mary Stuart: A thrilling balancing act
I owe nearly everyone favors after this one!
Bringing Mary Stuart to production has been over a two-year journey, starting with a desire to direct a project with Luisa Sermol whose work I adore. We found that we both shared a love for this play and, for Luisa in particular, a burning desire to bring this iconic queen and her powerful story to life. Mary Stuart has been a deep part of her Scottish upbringing and her lifelong dream to play her is finally at hand.
Then Louanne Moldovan, my dear friend & Artistic Director of Cygnet Productions and I teamed up and decided we can do this. With her at the producing helm we prepared our case for CoHo to be considered for their selection a few years ago.
Disappointingly we were not selected but damn, this project, somewhat like Mary Stuart, refused to give up!
Grant Turner stepped in and offered to make the project a part of his season and we were so grateful and delighted. At the time Val Stevens was on board to play Elizabeth but when she moved to Los Angeles, we cast about for the right actress to play Mary’s nemesis. We saw so many wonderful actresses for it but it was Lorraine Bahr who completely embodied that legendary queen, as if she was to the manor born. So with our queens in place, soon the rest of the cast came on board with every actor bringing their talent and serious A game to the table; in one case coming all the way from London to throw his lot in with us: my friend and former LA company member, British actor Philip Whiteman.
Knowing that it would cost more than NWCTC usually can afford, we threw a fundraising party and collected some extra bucks with the help of many friends, and so off we went to find the creative team.
No director works alone.
If you are lucky, you get to assemble a team of artists whose specific knowledge and skill opens doors to the most creative ways possible for you to tell your story, often straining themselves and their resources to do so within your budget. Because they are rock stars somehow finding ways of solving limitations by pretending that they do not exist, they have all created aspects of this show that I never dreamt we could have, just so that I could realize my vision of this play. They all are my heroes; each one adding their care and artistry so what you will see is a true collaborative effort of many talented people, all working to make me look much cleverer than I really am! So I want you to know who they are:
With a smart set design by Megan Wilkerson and the technical building skills of my friend and fellow actor Jeff Arrington, they helped me to turn the intimate Shoebox into a perfectly elegant jewel box that amply allows me to travel back and forth from Whitehall to Fotheringay prison. I am blown away, as always, by the truly stunning sound design by the brilliant Sharath Patel and the haunting score created by him and Gayle and Philip Neuman. I am honored again by the care and beauty of the sculpted lighting design created in such a tiny space by my gentle and talented friend Brian Guerrero. What the actors are wearing is the result of lots of research, considered choices and many hours of hard work by Rusty Twelerp and Chloe Golberg to create the “drop my jaw in awe” costumes created.
I am delighted to have met and worked with Janet Trygstadt who taught us beautiful period dance moves as well as my favorite fighting goddess, Kristen Mun who I also just like to have around because she is SO badass! . Then Andrés Alcalá, a brilliant actor in his own right, waltzes in with his magic computer & mind boggling editing skills to create beautifully lush images that I still can’t believe I have for this show.
Finally our intrepid Stage Manager, who I now believe I cannot live without, the sweet but determined Jenn Lindell who is somehow going to run the whole shebang all by herself.
So you see I am a lucky director. This has been and is about to be an epic journey for all of us. We are primed and excited to share it with you.
As for my favorite lines here are a few that sum up this powerful play for me:
Men love to see the sword of justice grasped by a man, but they can’t stand it being wielded by a woman- Lord Burleigh
Odd that a queen has no more advantages than an ordinary kind of woman- Queen Elizabeth
Do not forget that nothing stands forever. That there are gods who punish pride- the proof is at your feet- Mary Stuart
Song that best sums it up for me: “What’s love got to do with it?”
Thanks for letting me ramble and hope to see you there or around town afterwards!
-Elizabeth Huffman, Director of Mary Stuart
I play ‘Mortimer’ in Mary Stuart. He is a man that has converted to Catholicism from Puritanism (an extreme form of Protestantism). During Elizabeth’s reign (she was educated as a Protestant) the country was in religious divide as it broke away from The Roman Catholic Church – which had educated Mary, Queen of Scots. So it may be useful to know some of the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. It is easy to throw these things into one basket as they all stem from the same foundations just with the rules bent to fit people’s wants, needs and desires.
Here is a list of the 3 biggest differences:
- Scripture and its authority: Protestants hold the belief that The Bible holds full authority and is all you need when it comes to the word of God. In other words they believe “this is the word of God!” and The Bible is enough for teaching us how to gain salvation from sin and measure our behavior. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that their traditions are as sacred as the teachings of The Bible and that both have equal authority; basically, The Bible isn’t enough. Roman Catholic doctrines, such as the idea of purgatory, praying to the saints, and the veneration of Mary, have little or no basis in the Scripture, but are based on Roman Catholic traditions.
- The Pope! Although many people and Catholics may like the current chap with all the news headlines he is gathering, the Protestants do not! The current Pope’s unconventional (in fact any Pope’s) behaviour only goes to prove that no human is infallible. Protestants think that Christ alone is the head of the Church. They think that the spiritual authority of the church is based on the Word (Bible) rather than apostolic succession, and that all believers through the Holy Spirit can understand the Word. And of course to counter that, The Catholics will tell you that The Pope is ‘ The Vicar of Christ’ and stands in place of Jesus as a visible head of the church. His teachings are infallible and effective over all of us.
- Who will be saved and find eternal salvation? Not me, according to both parties! But that is beside the point. Protestants think all you need is your faith in Jesus Christ. No meritorious works are necessary, God has his plan of salvation and it is out of your hands – but they do like nice people. Catholics definitely think that ‘you gotta have faith’ but that you’ve also got to be a well behaved individual. Another way of putting this would be that Christ’s martyrdom wasn’t enough and that individuals must pay for their sins through penance (a problem shared is a problem halved) or by spending time in that place we all want to avoid, Purgatory. Part of the Catholic salvation process is also the seven sacraments: baptism at birth, confirmation, the Eucharist, holy orders, anointing of the sick, matrimony and penance.
There are lots of other differences and also some similar core beliefs (the Trinity, the deity of Jesus, and the fact that he was sinless, that he died on the cross for man’s sin and rose from the dead and ascended to heaven).
Hopefully this helps you get a basic idea of what was happening at the time. See you after the show.
-Phillip Whiteman, playing Mortimer in Mary Stuart
Dramaturgical notes on Mary Stuart
Six days before the death of her father, James V, (after battle with the English in southern Scotland) Mary Stuart was born on December 8th 1542, in the great royal palace of Linlithgow in Scotland. She was his sole legitimate heir. The infant was crowned Queen of Scots in 1543.
At that time there was a lot of unrest in Scotland, what with the English attacks and the strong support many of the Scottish lords were giving the new Protestantism. Her mother, the French Mary of Guise, decided to send her infant daughter to France for safety and the comfort of her own family in 1548, while she stayed in Scotland as the Regent. Mary passed her childhood in France; she was educated by French scholars and musicians, spoke a variety of languages with French being the language she preferred, wrote poetry, danced, played the lute, and was a master embroiderer. She was talented, accomplished, and beautiful. As planned, in 1558, she married the fifteen year old Dauphin, who became king the following year. Now she was queen of Scotland and France.
Sadly widowed less than two years later, she returned to Scotland as its queen after an absence in France of thirteen years. When she arrived in Edinburgh in 1561 to take the throne she was a naive, Roman Catholic nineteen-year-old with no prejudice against those who preferred the reformed faith. She was unaware of the power of the new Reformation that was to lead to civil war, an eventual Protestant coup, a humiliating “trial” and her own abdication in 1567.
Unfortunately, her reign and life itself brought her tragedy: the murder of her beloved friend Rizzio in front of her eyes, the subsequent murder of her second husband, Darnley, the exiling of Bothwell, her third husband, and suspect in the abusive Darnley’s murder, the birth of her son, James, who was taken from her to be brought up in the Protestant faith, and a constitutional revolution ending in a deposed Mary.
She finally decided to throw herself upon the mercy of her cousin and rival, Elizabeth in England. The year was 1568. Unfortunately, Mary survived religious revolt and political opposition in her native land only to be denied her eventual freedom and was imprisoned as a threat to Elizabeth at age 25. Mary requested many times to meet with Elizabeth face to face to explain her case. This never happened.
Finally, after 19 years later in prison, at the age of forty four, Mary experienced her violent death, brought about by her rival and “sister”, Elizabeth, Queen of England.
Written by Dorothy Sermol (mother of Luisa, who plays the title role in Mary Stuart)