Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare. Directed by Lisa Wolpe.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Stealing the scraps of language
The company does a DibbleDance (front) Brooke Parks, Jason Asprey, Nafeesa Monroe, Mark Bedard; photo: Kevin Sprague
Four men, including the King of Navarre, have forsworn women for three years, preferring to get into their studies and turn themselves into men worthy of their names, positions and eventual women. Four women arrive in Navarre for a sojourn and they instantly attract the four men above. At stake in all of this is the province in France known as the Aquitaine (this is the same landmass over which actors have been quarreling at the nearby Berkshire Theatre Festival in the play "The Lion in Winter"). Our four couples, the ones we’re concerned with right now, inhabit the play "Love’s Labour’s Lost" by William Shakespeare being performed this summer at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts.
This was Shakespeare’s ninth play after three excellent comedies including "the Taming of the Shrew" only one year earlier and with "Romeo and Juliet" waiting to be written next. Not performed any near the number of times the other two plays achieved, in his lifetime and afterward, LLL is a very different kettle of fish. Ostensibly a comedy it has an ending that presages the great tragedies to come and is, I think, the only one of his thirty-eight major works that has no true ending at all; instead some people go that way and some go the other way. A lot is left up in the air for the characters who inhabit this world.
In this version of the play director Lisa Wolpe transports the characters to Europe shortly after World War II so we are in the late 1940s. She has also transformed the character Holofernes from a cock-eyed man into a gypsy woman which works better for the romantic angles and for the premonitions and spells cast in this show. Setting the time of the play into the recent past also gives us a chance to look at lovely and hysterically funny costumes as well as to find it all so much more compelling.
The cast helps a great deal here. The setting and costumes can be as up-to-date as they like, but it is still the language that matters most and that takes very good actors in this case to cut through that muddle of words that makes William Shakespeare so hard to take at times. Mark Bedard does a wonderful job with the complicated sense of the English. He has a lot to say and he sets a fine example for the others to follow. As Berowen, one of the three Lords attending the King he is a handsome figure, worthy of the pledge and woman for whom he breaks it. All of the same can be said for Dumaine, played superbly by David Joseph. His youthful vigor has been stuffed into his voice in this show and as for Andy Talen, playing the fourth Lord, Longaville, he adds a handsome figure and a good way with comic movement to the plot.
The Princess is played to mammoth perfection by Brooke Parks. Her Ladies are almost her match, particularly Nafeesa Monroe as Rosaline. Monroe is a delicious dollop of a woman who can laugh on stage and not interfere with our own laughter. Kate Abbruzzese is a fine figure of a Katharine and Kelly Galvin her match as Maria. All four handle their roles with perfect mastery of the work.
Jason Asprey is the King and he plays the part to injured perfection, moving from wheelchair to cane to Russian dancing without batting an eyelash. Asprey puts some of his farcical background to good use in this role and the result is a man who will not be human in spite of his definite and obvious human qualities. He is a man who deserves his final scenes’ fate.
The supporting company of lovers and clowns are a most interesting lot. Paula Langton plays Holofernes, formerly a male schoolteacher but here a female gypsy, and she is the best of the very-very good. She sings, plays musical instruments and struts her part to play in the play’s play with plenty of pep. Edgar Landa as the foreign, lisping Don Armado is absolutely hilarious in the role.
Josh Aaron McCabe is as funny and as straightforward as he could ever be as Sir Nathaniel, a cleric, a role he was clearly born to play. Michael F. Toomey has a ball playing Costard, the messenger and he has nailed the part. Charls Sedgwick Hall gives his elegant all to the role of Boyet and Jaquanetta is portrayed with finesse, grace and an aggressive correctness by Alexandra Lincoln. Erik Sirakian does a fine job with Moth and Ryan Winkles distinguishes himself from the rest as Dull, a constable who can fall asleep on his feet.
How much of the alteration of the script was done by director Lisa Wolpe is something we will probably never know, but her work overall, in keeping this play alive and its people believable, is wonderful. She proves herself a perfect control freak as her players appear and disappear into corners of the theater and force us, and we are used by her as a character known as the audience, to turn in our seats to locate the speaker. She understands Shakespeare’s comedy and uses that to the play’s advantage.
Junghyun Georgia Lee has created a wonderful set for this show and Govane Lohbauer outdoes herself with the women’s costumes in particular. Matthew Adelson’s lighting is lovely and the use of music, controlled by Alexander Sovronsky who has also composed some for this show, is wonderfully ornery and cocksure. He even uses one of my favorite Kurt Weill songs to help solidify the period in which this play is now set. Susan Dibble’s dance movement is more than usually respectable.
The play lives up to its title, although more than that should not be said here, but the comedy that emerges from the situations contained in those same pages makes the two and a half hours playing time very worthwhile. I don’t see how you could not find yourself laughing at these fascinating folks and if the play’s end leaves you sentimental, so much the better. Laughter makes a hot evening into a cooler environment and these folks are all cool. Real cool.
The Ladies; photo: Kevin Sprague
The Gentlemen; photo: Kevin Sprague
The Clowns; photo by Kevin Sprague
Love’s Labour’s Lost continues in repertory through September 1 at the Tina Packer Playhouse on the campus of Shakespeare and Company, 70 Kemble Street, Lenox, Massachusetts. For information and tickets, call the box office at 413-637-3353 or go on line at www.shakespeare.org.