Play turns Shakespeare heroines against type
by Erin Bradley
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A “feminist comedy” by a Canadian playwright comes to Bethel College’s Krehbiel Auditorium stage Feb. 21-23.
Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet by Ann-Marie MacDonald tells a story of magical things that happen to a young graduate assistant when she falls into the world of Shakespeare and experiences the stories she is trying to reinterpret.
Constance Ledbelly theorizes that Shakespeare’s tragedies Othello and Romeo and Juliet were originally comedies, based on her belief that if a “wise fool” archetype was inserted into the two plays, they could not remain tragedies.
The only thing stopping Constance from proving her theory to skeptics like her boss, Professor Claude Night, is her timid self. In a moment of despair, she is thrown into both her subconscious and the two Shakespearean tragedies, where she discovers the truth about herself and finds the lost fool, with the help of Desdemona and Juliet.
MacDonald, better known in the United States for her fiction (Fall on Your Knees, 1996; The Way the Crow Flies, 2004), received the Governor General’s Award, the Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award and the Canadian Author’s Association Award for Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet.
Providing strong female roles was one of director Megan Upton-Tyner’s goals when she was deciding on the first of two spring plays at Bethel.
“I am really excited about this particular work. This is what I would consider a feminist comedy,” Upton-Tyner said.
“The story line revolves around Constance and two [female characters], Desdemona and Juliet. When we look at [most] plays, sitcoms and movies, the story line – even if the lead is a female – will mostly revolve around a man. Even if it’s the female’s story, she is chasing or being chased by the man.
“Juliet and Desdemona in particular are these wonderful female characters who are completely against type, what we would usually consider ‘damsels in distress.’ I found this play so refreshing and delightful and really a great opportunity for our great female talent.”
The cast in general is strong, said Becca Epp, junior from North Newton, who plays Juliet.
“You definitely get a sense that it is the three females, specifically Megan Siebert’s character, Constance, who are driving the plot,” she said. “It’s really good to see in today’s world. You don’t have a lot of playwrights who write strong female leads.
“Although all of the guys in the show are fabulous, and their parts in the show are great as well, in the end you get a sense that it’s the three females who are at the center.”
While the plot line does not align with the typical Shakespeare play, one aspect sticks with tradition and has been fun for the cast.
“We have a fight choreographer,” said Upton-Tyner. “She is doing our sword fighting – teaching stage fighting and stage combat, which has been pretty cool.”
The choreographer is Danette Baker, an adjunct faculty member for Wichita State University's theater department and a recognized “advanced actor combatant” with the Society of American Fight Directors.
“That was pretty awesome to see the actors pick up their rapiers and be like: ‘Okay, I have a sword now, I can hit people,’” Upton-Tyner continued. “I am excited about the audience being able to see that. I think it kicks up a notch what the audience can expect.”
Cast members – and those participating in the fighting scenes – are Megan Siebert, senior from Topeka, as Constance Ledbelly; Julia Miller, senior from Hesston, as Desdemona; Luke Loganbill, sophomore from Moundridge, as Iago; Cris Nelson, junior from Wichita, as Tybalt; Chris Riesen, senior from Beatrice, Neb., as Romeo; and Leland Brown III, sophomore from Galveston, Texas, as Mercutio.
In addition to Epp as Juliet, Cody Claassen, junior from Whitewater, appears in various roles, as a soldier, a nurse and a servant.
The crew includes Jacob Brubaker, junior from Top-of-the-World, Ariz., stage manager; Jocelyn Wilkinson, junior from San Antonio, Texas, lighting designer; Emily Luedtke, junior from Wichita, props; and Austin Unruh, senior from Goessel, lead carpenter.
“It’s a great show for adults but probably not for kids,” Upton-Tyner said. “There is some pretty lewd humor. It’s hidden a bit in the Shakespearean dialogue but it’s definitely there.”
Ticket prices for Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet are: $10 adults; $8 non-Bethel students and adults age 65 and older; and $5 Bethel students. This play is rated PG-13, with viewer discretion advised for those under age 13. Tickets are on sale at Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center on the Bethel campus during regular business hours, or at the door starting one-half hour before the performance, subject to availability.
Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.