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Wild farce turns Bard topsy-turvy

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Constance Ledbelly, an assistant professor at Queen's University, has taken a few trips in her life - mostly package tours - but nothing remotely like the one she is propelled into in "Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)."

Ledbelly, played to the hilt in a terrific performance by Betsy West, is a slightly ditzy teacher who has come up with a doozy of a theory. She postulates that William Shakespeare's scripts for his two classic tragedies, "Othello" and "Romeo and Juliet," were actually stolen from comedies. And she's bent on using an ancient manuscript to prove her point.Just as she's about to dump the manuscript into a waste basket, lights flash and smoke billows . . . and she's thrust into a bizarre fantasy world from both plays.

In Ann-Marie MacDonald's script, the tragedies have turned topsy-turvy. Instead of a macho Othello and a demure Desdemona, you get a squeaky-voiced wimp and a bold Amazonian.

When the frenetic farce shifts to Verona, we find that the real reason Romeo and Juliet haven't consumated their marriage is that Romeo is still a bit confused about his, uh, orientation. Not only does he become instantly infatuated with "Constantine" (as then-boyish Constance has hurriedly introduced herself), at one point he slips into one of Juliet's pretty frocks and boldly announces, "it is I . . . Romiette!"

You get the drift.

MacDonald has added a playful, contemporary spin to Shakespeare, using the Bard's penchant for odd twists, mistaken identities, gender swapping and intrigue to turn the tragedies into comedies gone awry.

The cast, as co-directed by David Evanoff and Cynthia Fleming, enters into a perfect marriage of screwball comedy and choreographed blocking.

West really connects to her role as Constance.

Joe Pitti, who joined the ensemble just two weeks before opening, is perfectly cast in four varied roles: Othello, Tybalt, Juiliet's Nurse and Prof. Claude Night. Annie Schilling, who's had dramatic parts in "Keely and Du" and "Angels in America," cuts loose as Desdemona, Mercutio, Ramona (Prof. Night's betrothed) and a Servant.

Alexis Baigue, one of the region's bright new talents, struts his stuff in outgrageous portrayals of Romeo, Iago, Ghost and a dapper Chorus, while Theresa Ravnikar glows as the fair Juliet, plus briefer turns as a university student and a Soldier of Cypress.

Keven Myhre's scenery and costumes are, as usual, first-rate, with excellent lighting by Jim Craig and sound by Evanoff.

- Sensitivity rating: There is plenty of Shakespearean bawdiness, with ribald jocularity and sensual gesturing.