Ann-Marie MacDonald, Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) (Grove Press, 1990)

Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is a three-act play which is something of an honor to review. Words like "fresh," "savory," "appetizing" and "filling" all immediately spring to mind — and if a writer can be likened to a cook, Ann-Marie MacDonald can be likened to a gourmet. What's more: a gourmet who displays her mastery in this short but hilarious play.

Ann-Marie MacDonald is an actress as well as a writer; it shows. Her timing and the few stage-directions she includes are right on target. A few of the laurels she has under her hat include the 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel (Fall on Your Knees), while Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) was awarded the 1990 Governor General's Award for Drama as well as a Chalmers Canadian Play Award and the Canadian Authors' Association Award.

The story goes like this: Constance, a timid academic working on her thesis, is jilted in love and work by the raffish Professor Night. Her thesis, for which she is ridiculed, claims that Romeo and Juliet and Othello are actually comedies stolen from an earlier source. To prove this, she hopes to translate a cryptic manuscript by Shakespeare's friend, Gustav the Alchemist. When she does translate the script, she finds herself whisked off to ancient Cypress, where Othello battles the Turks and himself....

This play asks what if Othello found out about Iago's treachery before he murdered Desdemona? What if Tybalt had just been told that he couldn't kill Romeo because Romeo had just married Juliet? Then it shows you through Connie, who does what any audience might have wanted to do: stop the tragedy. Meanwhile, all she wants to do is get home, and to do that she has to find her true identity as well as the real Author. But the plays have been changed, and in the new plays Connie quickly accrues enemies, and danger lurks behind every face.

It is a play. Don't expect a novel. I read it in about an hour and a half and found it very easy to slip in and out of. The ending was a bit sudden but the play was edited for performance and that is the version found on Amazon and in bookstores. There could have been more, but what there is works and flows well. Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) can be taken as either a psychological drama — that is, a drama which occurs in the unconscious — or for the story as presented.

It has all the ingredients for a rousing comedy: sword-fights, passion, war, "beautifulest women," a masquerade ball, dastardly villains, iambic pentameter, ghosts, girls dressed as boys, boys in love with girls dressed as boys, and girls married to boys who are in love with girls dressed as boys and who is also (the married girl that is) in love with the same boy, who is really a girl. Let's not forget betrayal and love unrequited.

This play is, simply, a feast: funny, fast-paced, and unforgettable.

[Jessica Paige]