July 13 2016 09:45 AM

Over the Ledge reimagines the bard in summer production

To see it or not to see it, that is the question. On one hand, Over the Ledge Theatre Co.’s latest production, “Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet)” is ideal summer theater fun. It’s a bawdy reworking of Shakespearian shows and characters that attempts to literally turn tragedies into comedies. On the other hand, listening to so much dialogue performed in iambic pentameter can feel like a chore. Fortunately, slick production values, sharp fight choreography and strong acting make this show a worthwhile destination regardless of your Shakespeare comfort level.

For better or worse, Anne-Marie Mac- Donald’s script is a clever, feminist critique of Shakespearian characters, as well as a light spoof on Shakespearian tropes in general. Assistant Professor Constance Ledbelly (Cassie Little) sets out to prove that the doomed characters Desdemona and Juliet, from the tragedies “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet,” respectively, were actually strong, feminist archetypes in comedies that went awry. In her despair at being passed over for a promotion, Constance is magically transported into the literary world of the plays. Like a bard-themed “Back to the Future,” Constance’s meddling in the affairs of the plays’ characters sparks unexpected consequences.

Besides the exposition-heavy first act, the show moves quite swiftly thanks to director Mary Job. The case is energized, graceful and fun, keeping the quick pace even through scene transitions. At times, the play feels like you’re watching an extended inside joke. But Job and her cast work hard to make the material accessible for all audiences. The best bits are in Acts II and III, in “Othello’s fortress” in Cyprus or Verona, Italy. Job’s set design, complete with faux-stone archways and pedestals, and traditional costumes by Lark Burger ground the show in theatrical authenticity. For extra glitz, Ian Griffin and John Lennox contribute fantastic fight choreography that looks sharp and moves swiftly enough to seem dangerous.

Juggling multiple roles, actors Adam Pruden, Michael Boxleitner, Anna Szabo, Kathryn Willis and Heath Sartorius work like a live-action Shakespearian toy box, bringing dead serious commitment to the zany roles. The best of these include Pruden’s Othello, played with a cocky adolescent swagger, Boxleitner’s smarmy Iago and Szabo as Desdemona reimagined as an Amazonian warrior. Szabo doesn’t have any more stage time than her cast mates, but her straightfaced, fiery delivery sets her apart. She also earns the biggest laughs of the evening, especially when attempting to smother Constance with a pillow shouting, “Down strumpet!”

Although Little only has one character to play, she seems to struggle with conveying her modern neuroticisms against the clownish story characters. It’s a tricky role, hampered further by the moralizing dialogue near the end of the play.

Overall, Over the Ledge’s converted barn ambience is perfect for this kind of show. It feels like Shakespeare in the Park — bugs included — but with a roof over your head. Add in professional sound and light cues from designers Ted Daniel and Bryan Ruhf, and you’ve got a fun, well-executed summer show.

“Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet)”

Over the Ledge Theatre Co.
8 p.m. Thursday, July 14-Saturday, July 16;
2 p.m. Sunday, July 17
$10/$8 seniors/$6 students
The Ledges Playhouse 137 Fitzgerald Park Drive, Grand Ledge
(517) 318-0579, overtheledge.org