Twisted Take: Good Night Desdemona rewrites tragic Shakespearean history

By on November 1, 2017

What if Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” hadn’t ended in tragedy? What if instead of killing themselves, the young lovers found a way to build a life together? Would it have been a romance, or as with so many relationships, would it have been more a comedy of errors?

Riot Act Inc. takes on those questions and more in the comedy “Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet),” which offers a “twisted take” on “Romeo and Juliet” and “Othello,” said Kelsey Johnson, who plays Juliet in the production.

The show, which is not suitable for children, opens Thursday and runs through Saturday, with a second showing Nov. 9-11 at Walk Festival Hall in Teton Village.

The show takes away the tragic endings of the old Romeo and Juliet tale and imagines where the stories could have traveled, had the ending not been, well…so typically Shakespeare.

Juliet, for example, is a needy young teenager who wakes after her first night with Romeo, which was supposed to be filled with passion, and feels dissatisfied and resigned, at best, to married life, Johnson said.

“If you think about that, they are just two teenagers getting married,” Johnson said. “If they hadn’t died in the original script, they aren’t really set up for a long-lasting relationship. They don’t know what love is. They don’t have anything solid to form the relationship.”

Juliet doesn’t want one great love, but instead feels she should fall in love more than once before she dies. She wants the excitement of forbidden love and she’s lost interest in Romeo.

While the show deviates from the original classics, it builds a deeper connection with the stories, Johnson said.

People often remember struggling to read “Romeo and Juliet” and “Othello” in high school. Shakespeare can feel challenging and out of reach for average readers, Johnson said. It’s different to see the words performed, as they were meant to be.

The additional comedic twists in Riot Act’s show make you think about the original stories and makes them more accessible, she said.

The show is the perfect kick-off to Riot Act’s fifteenth season, said Macey Mott, show director and one of the founders of the company. Riot Act was originally started by five women, after all, and the show is primarily about women.

“It’s a fun show with strong female characters,” Mott said. “It’s a fun take on the normal damsel in distress Shakespearean heroines and gives these women a little more meat.”

The show is funny, physical and also sexual—another reminder it’s not appropriate for young children, Mott said.

“It’s a really silly show, but it’s also really intellectual,” she said. “I think that is something at Riot Act – we have a tendency to do shows that are not your normal run-of-the-mill production.”

Fifteen years ago there wasn’t a local theater scene, Mott said. Mott wanted to live in Jackson, but also wanted a creative outlet.

From the start, Riot Act productions were often modern and edgy. Mott presents shows that inspire and intrigue her to the organization’s board of directors, which allows her to pursue passion projects.

A major tenet of Riot Act’s mission has been to use local artists. Rarely does the company bring in outsiders to help with the production, but instead works to present professional theater using local resources.

In the last 15 years, Riot Act has produced numerous show from intimate small casts, to full on productions like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” one of Mott’s personal favorite shows she’s directed. It also added an annual series of short plays, written, directed and acted by community members.

As Riot Act celebrates the 15-year milestone, Mott wants to find the theater company a permanent home, instead of having to find performance space for each production. A permanent home for the company would allow it to produce larger productions with bigger sets and offer community theater workshops.

It would help Riot Act continue to fulfill its mission, laid out in 2002 in a manifesto still on its website.

“We hope to be a theatre of community consciousness and artistic accountability,” it says. “We are a fluid collective of artists who have much to share and much to learn. We want to tell stories: classical and contemporary, traditional and avant-garde. We want to support new work and the work of new artists. We seek to provide a place for artists to explore collaboratively, to make their own artistic decisions, take risks and start a riot.”

It all, Mott said, still holds true today. PJH

Riot Act Inc., “Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet),” 7 p.m. doors, 7:30 p.m. show, Thursday through Saturday and Nov. 9-11, Walk Festival Hall, Teton Village, $15 students and seniors, $20 adults at the door or at riotactinc.org.

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