Cambrian Performs Canadian Classic with Unexpected Local Connection

Story by Tonya Muchano, Photo by Matt Goertz

Cambrian Players’ latest production, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), is a playful, imaginative, and incredibly smart piece by Canadian theatre and literary icon Anne-Marie MacDonald. It follows academic Constance Ledbelly, who is trying to decipher an obscure textthe Gustav Manuscriptthat she believes is the real source for Shakespeare’s Othello and Romeo and Juliet. She is convinced the two tragedies were originally comedies. Like Alice in Wonderland, she falls through her wastebasket and into the worlds of the two plays. There she meets Desdemona and Juliet in the climax of their tragic ends, changes the story, creates new complications, and ultimately finds her true self.

“It is a great actor’s play, with cast members playing multiple roles, the fight choreography, the physicality, and the use of the words of Shakespeare.” explains director Sheena Albanese. “As director I’ve had to pull in expertise from all over.” The production includes dance choreography by Jessica Falcioni and stage combat training by Warren McGoey.

“It’s very cheeky, very theatrical, and very clever,” says Albanese. “And it’s so refreshing to see the women—the tragic heroines—get a little more attention.”

Remarkably, this play also has a unique connection to Thunder Bay that has mostly been lost to history. Janis Swanson plays Constance Ledbelly, and says this is not the first time she’s held that role. “I actually worked on the play in its first drafts in 1988, with Magnus at the old East End theatre,” explains Swanson. “We worked with [Canadian dramaturg] DD Kugler. We would workshop it and Anne-Marie MacDonald would send us rewrites. It had a powerful impact on me as an actor.” The play was performed here in the same year it premiered at Nightwood Theatre in Toronto, though which show opened first remains unclear.

Swanson still has her folder with the original text and revisions, her own Gustav Manuscript of sorts. How does she feel about playing the same character 28 years later? “There is a range of life experience that I can bring to the character—things I didn’t really get before that I get now. Constance is a lot smarter than she was 28 years ago.”

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) plays November 16-19 and November 23-26 at the Finlandia. Tickets are available at Calico, Fireweed, Steeper’s, Red Lion, and at the door.