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Wednesday, 29 January 2014 02:14

What's next, the hidden humor of 'Hamlet'?

Written by Tina Farmer
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The Details

L-R: Ben Ritchie, Laura Singleton
L-R: Ben Ritchie, Laura Singleton placeseveryone.org / Nathan Schroeder

Clayton Community Theatre takes a humorous look at the general reverence for and study of all things Shakespeare with Ann-Marie MacDonald's sprightly comedy "Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)." A near-farcical look at two well-known Shakespearean plays, "Othello" and "Romeo and Juliet," the show succeeds in spirit while it lacks in substance.

Perpetual doctoral candidate Constance, played with an abundance of spunk and unbridled enthusiasm by Valleri Dillard, is obsessed with a set of documents written in code that she believes support a comic interpretation of both "Othello" and "Romeo and Juliet." She is also more than a little obsessed with the recently tenured Professor Night, an intellectual cad who manipulates Constance's affection and academic ambition to further his career.

After an exchange revealing the professor's callous nature, Constance finds herself physically transported into Shakespeare's famous plays. Constance is intimately familiar with the two plays, and the stories into which she steps are instantly known to, and affected by, her. The twist is fun, in a "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" way, and Dillard embraces her time traveler role.

Clayton Community Theatre's production places emphasis on the humor and imagination of the script, and the actors deliver engaging, energetic, and often charming performances. The set, stage dressing, and effects are simple and serviceable, the lighting scheme helps to direct focus, but the success of the show is wholly dependent on acting, direction, and script interpretation.

For the most part, the resulting production is solid and entertaining. Dillard, and Ben Ritchie as the Chorus, deliver standout performances. Both characters are central to the story, and the two are likeable and quite funny. I found myself wishing for Dillard's Constance to undergo real change, and the play's resolution felt too convenient and rushed, but the commitment of the actors to the production was clear.

Laura Singleton and Tasha Zebrowski, as Desdemona and Juliet, respectively, add modern ideas of feminism and confidence to their characters. They complement and mirror each other in interesting ways that demonstrate a scholar's attention to character, detail, and motivation. Maxwell Knocke, as Romeo, and Brandon Atkins, as Professor Night, Othello, and Tybalt, round out the cast. Both actors find humorous ways to add flourish and interest to their characters; Atkins is smooth and cool while Knocke adds a welcome touch of slapstick to his performance.

The cast reveled in exploring Shakespeare's famous characters with a fresh eye. We see an independent, warrior-like Desdemona; a thoroughly modern teenage Juliet filled with angst and boredom; a Romeo with seemingly fluid sexual preferences; and an Iago who is still quick, cunning, and self-serving -- able to shift his manipulations to match the current situation. To my enjoyment, I found all these interpretations feel plausible when considered against the original characters.

The possible existence of lost Shakespearian manuscripts and predecessor plays that influenced the Bard's work has always fascinated literary and theatrical scholars. MacDonald has fashioned a delightfully humorous, if occasionally thin, script around the imagined discovery of a source play.

The playwright does an excellent job writing dialogue in the spirit of Shakespeare, and these scenes are the most compelling in the show. Unfortunately, her contemporary scenes feel flat and clichéd. The cast follows in turn: fully expressing characters in the Elizabethan style, while delivering less convincing, and sometimes aimless, performances in the contemporary scenes.

Director Joshua Cook may have slighted time on the development of the contemporary characters to the stylistic requirements of the period scenes and dialogue. While I wish both aspects of the story had received equal attention, the efforts on the latter were well spent. In addition, fight choreographer Brian Peters made excellent use of the space. The movements were crisp, quick, and inventive, often using the entire stage, even the contemporary office setting, to good effect.

While the play suffers from a lack of consistency, both in terms of the script and the performances, the production is an enjoyable twist on typical Shakespearean theater. "Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)" runs through February 2, 2014. For more information or to make a reservation, visit www.placeseveryone.org or call (314) 721-9228.

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