Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet at Belfry Theatre – a review

I remember sitting in the left balcony of the Belfry Theatre, 21 years ago this fall, for  Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), and laughing myself silly.


Daniela Vlaskalic (as Constance Ledbelly) / Photos by David Cooper

The swish and swirl onstage, coupled with wonderful parries and thrusts, and great bursts of bravado, cloaked in rhythmic language, simply charmed me.  When Michael Shamata, artistic director, announced earlier this year that the Belfry 2013/2014 season would include a reprise of this Governor General and Chalmers award-winning play, I wondered how it had weathered the decades.

Robust and energetic, full of repartee, wit, and feminist and philosophical references, it is nonetheless accessible to individuals who might not be as academically versed.  (Although there were plenty of audience members on opening night who caught the “ibid” joke).

desdemona_dress_0153Jameson Matthew Parker (Iago), Pippa Mackie (Soldier of Cyrpus), Michael Dufays (Othello), Daniela Vlaskalic (Constance Ledbelly), Nicola Elbro (Desdemona) Photos by David Cooper

Daniela Vlaskalic, last seen on the Belfry stage in Drowning Girls (a SPARK Festival production and one of my highlights of 2010) is Constance Ledbelly, university English professor, in all her mousy perfection. No one pays her much attention. She’s in thrall to her department head (a perfectly loathsome Claude Night (Michael Dufays)) and ignored by students and colleagues. Her particular scholarly whim is to prove that Shakespeare’s Othello and Romeo and Juliet were intended to be comedies.

Timid and hunched over her desk for much of the first act, it’s only when she disappears, in a puff of smoke, down the worm-hole of time, to emerge in Othello’s world, that we realize what an impressive character she can be.

Ron Jenkins directs the accomplished cast with gusto. They are full of élan as they cavort and caper in prodigious displays of sword craft, and do great justice to this brilliant mash-up. The splendid fight choreography (Michael Dufays, who also plays an assured Othello) provides ample action for individuals more accustomed to Die Hard than Shakespeare, while aficionados and scholars of the Bard will not be disappointed in this raucous send-up of all things “Will”.

The creative team is a veritable panoply of Canadian theatre, as evidenced by the array of awards and nominations including Jessies, Doras, Sterlings, Bettys and Siminovich.* desdemona_dress_0053

Jameson Matthew Parker (Romeo), Michael Dufays (Tybalt), Nicola Elbro (standing on desk -Mercutio) and Daniela Vlaskalic (Constance Ledbelly)  Photos by David Cooper

Designer (costumes and set) Camellia Koo has placed the action in a beautiful library that doubles as Constance’s office. Backed by stacks and shelves filled with books (over 1000 apparently), it also contains a fascinating apparatus through which characters appear and re-appear. The costume for Desdemona (Nicola Elbro), with its daring cut-away providing an ample view of leg, definitely sets the expectation for this character’s actions.  Elbro’s Desdemona is blood-thirsty and quick to anger, lustful and physically strong.

Other than Vlaskalic, each cast member plays multiple roles with comedic panache (Elbro as the servant, Jameson Matthew Parker as a cross-dressing Romeo, Dufays as Juliet’s nurse). Nothing is what we expect of Shakespeare – Romeo is a quiet and romantic young fellow, while Juliet (Pippa Mackie) is a spoiled brat with a definite appetite. Scenes where she tries to seduce Constance as they dance (choreography by Jessica Hickman) begin in demure fashion but slowly unravel in a hilarious remix of moves.  Is there a medieval version of the “Funky Chicken”?

desdemona_dress_0288Michael Dufays (Juliet’s Nurse) and Pippa Mackie (Juliet). Photos by David Cooper

The swirling designs of Michelle Ramsay’s lighting reminded me at times of scenes from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and emphasized the mystical, magical nature of Constance’s quest. Sound Designer Brian Linds can always be counted on to bring battle scenes to life – full of clanging swords and war whoops – as well as create century-specific music for each occasion.

Full of mysteries and riddles, with comedy that is by turns base and highly elevated, this mainstay of Canadian theatre receives full justice in the Belfry Theatre’s current production.  Thanks for introducing it to another generation.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald
September 17 – October 20, 2013 Belfry Theatre, 1291 Gladstone Avenue
Tickets: $25 to $40 (plus GST) at 250-385-6815 or online at

Cast: Michael Dufays Othello
Nicola Elbro  Desdemona
Pippa Mackie Juliet
Jameson Matthew Parker Romeo
Daniela Vlaskalic Constance Ledbelly

Creative Team
Director: Ron Jenkins
Designer: Camellia Koo
Lighting Designer: Michelle Ramsay
Sound Designer: Brian Linds
Fight Director: Michael Dufays
Choreographer: Jessica Hickman
Stage Manager: Jen Swan
Assistant Stage Manager: Ben Cheung

Ann-Marie MacDonald Ann-Marie MacDonald is an author, playwright, actor and broadcaster. Her novels, Fall On Your Knees and The Way the Crow Flies, are international bestsellers. Among her works for theatre are Belle Moral: A Natural History, The Attic The Pearls and Three Fine Girls, Anything That Moves and Nigredo Hotel. MacDonald is at work on a third novel, and is currently host of CBC’s Doc Zone. She is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada.

*  A note on Canadian Theatre awards.
Jessies (Jessie Richardson Award)– Vancouver theatre awards; established1982
Dora  (Dora Mavor Moore Award) – Toronto theatre awards; established 1979
Sterling (Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards – Edmonton theatre awards; established 1987
Betty (Betty Mitchell award) – Calgary Theatre awards; established 1997
Siminovich Prize– biggest award in Canadian theatre ($100,000); Established 2001.

Audience Engagement Events Shakespeare Onstage Offstage This citywide event, much of it free, is a community celebration of the Bard with exhibits and special events to engage the young at heart – children, youth, and adults. Venues include libraries, theatres, art galleries, classrooms, concert halls and pubs. The event will kick off on Saturday, September 21 at 11 am with an Opening Ceremonies performance at the Central Library branch. This unique and innovative cultural and community collaboration is brought to you by the Belfry, the Greater Victoria Public Library, Pacific Opera Victoria, UVic Library, UVic English Department, the Legacy Gallery and the Internet Shakespeare Edition website.

Afterplay Weeks September 24 – 28 / October 8 – 12 Ever want to “debrief” after seeing a show? Or maybe you’re curious how other audience members interpreted the play. Stick around after the evening performances on the dates above for a lively discussion with fellow audience members. 

Belfry at the LibraryTuesday, September 24 / Friday, September 27 / Tuesday, October 1 / Friday, October 4
Once again, the Belfry Theatre is partnering with the Greater Victoria Public Library and coming to a branch in your neighbourhood. Join us for a casual lunchtime chat with an actor from our production of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) and a special guest expert from the community. Register online at or call your local branch for more information about these free events.

Talkback Thursday Thursday, September 26
Following the 8pm performance of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), join the actors from the show and your fellow audience members for a 20-minute Q & A session.

Culture Days Saturday, September 28 from 10 am – 2 pm
The Belfry is taking part in Culture Days, a national event that promotes awareness, accessibility, participation and engagement of Canadians in the arts and cultural life of their communities. We’re working with a host of community partners including the VictoriaHinduTemple, Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre, Pacific Opera Victoria, Puente Theatre, the Victoria Shakespeare Festival, Story Theatre Company, Kaleidoscope Theatre and the Greater Victoria Public Library to bring you a feast of exciting free events you can take part in.  

Booksmack Monday, September 30 at 7 pm
The librarians are back! Fast, furious and fun, GVPL librarians return to the Belfry for Booksmack. They will let their hair down, take off their glasses and speed review their favourite books and DVDs to kick off Canadian Library Month. How fast and furious can they talk? Highbrow, lowbrow and everything in between, including some great titles inspired by Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Free event.

Vocal Eye Described Performance – New this Season Sunday, October 6 at 1:30 pm
Audio describers from Vancouver’s Vocal Eye program will be providing descriptions of the visual elements of the show, allowing people with low vision to enjoy the theatrical experience without missing any of the details. Theatre patrons with vision loss are given a personal receiver with a single earpiece and volume control that allows them to hear both the show and Vocal Eye’s live audio description at the same time. The live transmission begins fifteen minutes before curtain with brief descriptions of the set, characters and costumes. Once the show begins, the describer transmits pertinent physical action and visual information between the lines of dialogue. Short program notes and additional description for the second act may be provided at intermission.

ASL (American Sign Language) Interpreted Performance Sunday, October 13 at 2 pm
Signed performances are aimed at people who are deaf or hearing impaired. Trained describers, usually standing to one side of the stage, interpret the script and language used by the performers at the same time it is being performed.  Performances are described often using American Sign Language.

Disclaimer: I was offered complimentary tickets to attend the opening night Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). I was not paid to write a review nor was I required to do so. As always, I retain editorial control over all the content published on this blog.

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