Chesapeake Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” directed by Erin Bone Steele, is presently playing at the PFI Historic Park in Ellicott City Maryland.
This comedy was one of Shakespeare’s earliest. Many scholar’s feel it was the basis many of the plays he wrote immediately after “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” You can compare this comedy’s play within a play to the famous one in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It has the same witty and sharp-tongued women later seen in “As You Like It” and “Twelfth Night.”
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” is clever and humorous with an interesting premise. Ferdinand, King of Navarre (Jonathan Jacobs) and his three lords all agree to give up women and devote their time only to study for three years. They also promise to only sleep three hours a night, fast often and forego most merriment. As luck would have it, the Princess of France (Lauren Davis) and her three ladies of the court come to Navarre to speak to the king. Predictably, the King falls in love with the Princess, and the three lords also fall in love with the ladies.
This mix is further complicated by the foppish Don Adriano de Armando (Michael Boynton) and the commoner Costard (Danny Beason) both who fall in love with a milkmaid named Jaquenetta (Emily Karol).
As with most of Shakespeare’s comedies expect switched letters, bawdy language, thwarted romance, switched identities and, of course, the play within a play. “Love’s Labour’s Lost” also has several of the Bard’s sonnets interwoven in the dialogue.
Chesapeake’s version is set in the 1920s-30s. The costuming and music reflect that time frame. To put us in the mood the company entertains us with music from that era before the show and during intermission. There is a barbershop quartet version of “In the Good Old Summertime,” a bluesy rendition of “Why Don’t You Do Right” sung by Elana Michelle, Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” sung by Gregory Michael Atkin, and the Great Depression song of optimism, “Happy Days are Here Again” performed by Davis and Hilary Morrow. As intermission draws to a close, Karol and Boynton perform with a little banjo strumming by Christian Wilson “You’re the Tea in My Coffee.” The Princess and her ladies croon “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” setting up the second half. Taylor Rekus expertly backs up all these fine singers and the several musical interludes on the guitar. I mention all this because it is always impressive to note that most actors are also fine musical performers. This particular group is very well rounded.
Setting a Shakespearean play in a different historical period can change its meaning. This is not the case with “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” The plot and its underlying themes (Celibacy is unnatural and leads to much foolishness, but friendship and true love are enduring.) are not affected by the flapper clothing or skimmer hats. Some traditionalists might not approve, but I thought it lightened the action and seemed more apropos for a hot summer night.
So, pack up your picnic or just go and sit under the stars, and enjoy this royal production of Love’s Labour’s Lost.” It’s a summer find amongst the ruins.
The director, Erin Bone Steele, has kept this play as frothy as the Bard intended it to be. The action moves at a quick pace, and some of the longer speeches are brought to life with humorous movement by the actors. It seems very clever to have the couples dance the Charleston at the masked ball.
The performances are all top notch. Jacobs and Davis and the King and Princess prove very capable of handling the complex language filled with double meanings.
Michelle and Jose Guzman as their counterparts, Lord Berowne and Lady Rosaline, epitomize the sharp-tongued banter between the sexes we have come to expect in Shakespeare, for example, Petruchio and Kate in “Taming of the Shrew.”
JC Payne and Alexander Kafarakis as lords Longaville and Dumain and Micaela Mannix and Hilary Morrow as the ladies Maria and Katherine convey just the right amount of humor and romance.
Atkin as Boyet is wonderfully foppish as the Princess’s advisor. His witty portrayal always gets laughs. Boynton’s Don Adriano de Armado is as humorously pretentious as his name. Both performances deserve a special applause.
Beason as Don Adriano’s rival. Costard captures the rustic’s lack of sophistication. Karol as the object of their affection plays Jaquenetta as dumb and beautiful. Both actors successfully put their unique interpretations into the roles.
Two traditionally male roles are done by women. This is fine because Shakespeare had men playing women. However, the gender of the two characters is changed as well. Catherine Ann Gilbert plays Moth and Karen V Lawrence plays the schoolmaster, Holofernes. Moth in this production actually flirts with Costard. Gilbert does well with Moth’s many double entendres, and Lawrence characterizes the stuffy school teacher.
Rounding out the principle player are Wilson as Dull, the constable and Quincy Vicks as Sir Nathaniel, the curate, and both add to the merriment.
The rest of the ablest cast includes Juliet Jacob, Theodore Sherron III, Madison Steiner, Rekus, and Maria Marsalis.
Heather C. Jackson’s bright and original costumes set the flavor and time frame of this productions.
Daniel O’Brien is the Scenic and Lighting Designer as well as Technical Director. His talents turn the ruins into a 20th Century court, and his lighting was bright and cheerful even under the night sky.
The Musical Direction and Dance Choreography by Grace Srinivasan and Nellie K. Glover, respectively, also help make this a memorable production.
So, pack up your picnic or just go and sit under the stars, and enjoy this royal production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” It’s a summer find amongst the ruins.
Running Time: Two Hours and 20 minutes with an Intermission