IT'S THE END of Northwest Classical Theatre Company (NWCTC) as we know it. But at a recent performance of the company's latest, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet), it didn't seem that way. Directed by Brenan Dwyer (Potty Talk), Goodnight Desdemona marks a real departure for the theater company: It's a contemporary (!) comedy (!!) from the almost offensively multitalented Canadian playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald, about a scatter-brained academic, Constance Ledbelly (Rebecca Ridenour), attempting to prove her theory that Shakespeare's tragedies were all originally comedies.
Armed with a Penguin Books totebag (of course) and an actual quill, Ridenour is a fucking revelation as Constance. Watching her gnaw on a block of cheese while scribbling away and talking to no one in particular reached Liz Lemon "workin' on my night cheese" levels of funny, and gave me serious flashbacks to my own grad school Grey Gardens tendencies.
Because this is a play about theater, Constance ends up trying to save Shakespeare's tragic heroines from their maybe-not-destined doom; it's a goofy, high-concept twist that can't land without strong acting. Luckily, Dwyer's got a powerhouse ensemble: Unsurprising given her track record of feminist-informed projects, the cast is all women, each with inexhaustible comedic chops and the rare ability to make Shakespeare's language immediately accessible. It's a joy to watch them perform MacDonald's revisionist versions of Desdemona (she's a decapitating, ferocious jock played by a snarling Melissa Whitney), Othello (which Ashleigh Bragg plays as well intentioned but clueless and inadvertently hilarious), and Romeo and Juliet (Deanna Wells and Bonnie Auguston, respectively, as horny teenagers already bored with each other).
An obvious parallel might be Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but there's a key difference: Goodnight Desdemona is fun. I loved it, unabashedly, and I don't think it's just because I'm exactly the target audience for it, though I'll admit that the audience I saw it with were very much the read-a-book-at-intermission crowd. Still, MacDonald's play is too good to require a secret nerd decoder ring. If you've avoided NWCTC thus far, this is the play you should make an exception for.
Earlier this month, company member Clara Hillier sent out a press release announcing that this would be NWCTC's last season after 17 years in its current, Portland-based form. She clarified via email that Artistic Director Grant Turner had relocated to La Grande, Oregon; NWCTC will continue to produce "at least one production a year" in Portland, but will disband its resident acting company.
Often, when a theater company with a tenure like NWCTC's closes its doors, it's a morose, self-serious farewell. But watching the women of Goodnight Desdemona—all local actors—absolutely kill it under the direction of Dwyer, who's just now emerging as a promising director on Portland's theater scene, it didn't seem much like an ending at all.