Aug. 11 2009 12:00 AM

‘Desdemona’ mines Shakespeare-theory for comic relief


One could easily begin a review of the Shakespearean parody “Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)” with, “Good grief — what was writer Ann Marie Mc Donald thinking?” What makes logical sense in this play of little logic, as it probes the motives and intentions of Shakespeare and whether he intended “Romeo and Juliet “ and “Othello” to be comedies or tragedies, is simply this: There is a world of difference between the academic musings of Ph.D. students in English literature and the fictional worlds they examine.

Could there be a less attractive name for bookish beauty and central character Constance Ledbelly? Kelly Gmazel has to dress down to capture the inelegant essence of Constance, and she is costumed exquisitely with a mix and match collection that looks like the worst of K-Mart and best of Salvation Army. A more stereotypically dressed graduate student cannot elsewhere be found.

Nevertheless, this essential beauty finds reality lacking, and she takes a dissertation hypothesis and turns it into a dream like, topsy-turvy trip through a wormhole wastebasket back to the alternate “realities” of characters from the Bard’s bestknown tragedies.

Constance interfaces with Romeo, Juliet, Othello, Desdemona and Iago, all of whom have the hots for her (her most attractive quality seeming to be the way she flaunts big words). Tongue kissing and crotch-grabbing occur often.

In order to laugh at the jokes of this play, one needs a basic familiarity with the originals. That said, this cast projects volumes (a half-deaf critic had no problem hearing every word from the back row), and it adds just the right dollop of slapstick to Shakespeare to pull it off. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the comic contortions of Tod Humphrey, first as Iago and then as Romeo. Humphrey shows more moves than LeBron James, as he slam-dunks these characters and keeps the rest on their toes with sheer physical movement.

Brittney Benjamin is deliciously bombastic, and Amy Winchell, as Juliet, is fetchingly winsome.

Director Jeff Croff takes the already lively figures of Shakespeare and imbues them with electric voltage. This team came ready to play ball and warmed a small Thursday night audience that, at first, appeared resistant to warmth. This is parody that invites snorts and snickers, groans and guffaws. On this night, it got them.

‘Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)’

July 26 7 p.m. Wednesday & Thursday 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday 2
p.m. Sunday Riverwalk Theatre, 228 Museum Drive, Lansing $12-$14 (517)
482-5700 www.riverwalktheatre.com