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Love's Labors Lost

a Comedy
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 4158

SHOWING : November 05, 2011 - November 27, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Can three young men attempt to honor their pledge to avoid the opposite sex, food, drink and sleep, for the sake of becoming more intellectual and contemplative? Not in Shakespeare's world and certainly not at the Shakespeare Tavern! After three young women arrive on the scene, the result is far from a blissful pondering of noble deeds and nobler thoughts. Join us for muscovites, masks and lessons about love in this lyrical comedy. A part of the Shakespeare Evolution Series!


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Laura Cole
Costume Designer Anne Carole Butler
Lighting Designer Greg Hanthorn, Jr.
Stage Manager Cindy Kearns
Dull/Marcade Matt Baum
Costard Tony Brown
Rosaline Laura Cole
Moth Matt Felten
Dumain Jonathan Horne
Ferdinand, King of Navarre Andrew Houchins
Holofernes Doug Kaye
Jaquenetta Rivka Levin
Katharine Antonia LaChe McCain
Berowne Jeff McKerley
Maria Kati Grace Morton
Sir Nathaniel Matt Nitchie
Longaville Daniel Parvis
Princess of France Mary Russell
Don Adriano de Armado Jeff Watkins
Boyet Troy Willis
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Finding the Words
by Dedalus
Thursday, December 1, 2011
3.5

What if you make an oath promising to abstain from all worldly comforts (women, food, women, sleep, women, drink, and women) so you can engage in a regimen of study, contemplation, and improvement? What if, mere moments after making such an oath, you fall in love? If you pledge your faith to the object of your new-found affection, how can you possibly believe she will trust such a pledge?

Welcome to William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labours Lost,” a favorite of his time, but forgotten for two centuries and seldom-performed today. Seeing the Tavern’s lively production a mere 15 months after seeing Georgia Shakespeare’s 2010 production, it’s easy to understand why, easy to see how a quick cut-and-paste from my review of that production is oddly appropriate for this one.

Sure, I can take a pedantic English major’s approach, and remind you that Shakespeare was consciously parodying the style of John Lyly’s courtly dramas of the 1580’s, but, since Mr. Lyly’s oeuvre is very much over and forgotten, such parody is completely pointless today. I could also comment on the central role language plays in this piece – it is, after all, all about words and poems and puns and witty bon mots and oaths and pledges and braggadocio and talk talk talk talk. I could also talk about how the piece has no villain, no conflict, and no tests for the characters to pass, but that would take us right back to the John Lyly factor, and that certainly needs no gilding from me. I perhaps will eventually talk about the wistful ending, in which no love is really found, in which no plot point is actually resolved.

I could also take the “Shakespeare Evolution” approach and tell you this is the first of Shakespeare’s comedies seemingly created from nothing, NOT being an adaptation of someone else’s story. I could also point out that it contains one of the most complexly funny scenes of “overhearing” someone else he ever wrote, even when compared the later use of that plot trope in “Much Ado About Nothing.”

What, then, is left for the pleasure of a modern Atlanta audience? Even Kenneth Branagh had to add a few hot and sexy song-and-dance numbers to his 2000 movie version, just to keep us interested.

Well, to be honest, what’s left should be a slyly amusing, infinitely profound look at love and friendship. What’s left is a warm look at a piece that “plays far better than it reads,” that hints at what made it so popular during Elizabethan and Jacobean times, and that actually breaks some of the formulaic plottings we’ve come to expect from Shakespeare’s romances.

To recap the plot, the King of Navarre has persuaded three of his attending gentlemen to enter a monastic lifestyle of study and learning, abjuring women and food and even sleep for the three-year duration of their study. He has even coaxed them all into joining him in signing an oath detailing this commitment. But, being a king, he is almost at once forced into a compromise by the need to negotiate with the daughter of the dying King of France. Setting up the Princess and her ladies in a pavilion before his castle (the oath forbids female entry), he and his friends also fall in love with the delegation. Throw into the mix a pompous visiting Spanish Don, a pedantic professor and his friend, and a malaprop-spouting rustic and his wench, and the stage is set for an orthographic feast of words, neologisms, pretentious prattle, over-the-top purple poesy, not to mention the usual array of hidden eavesdroppers, witty battle-of-sexes banter, and bawdy licentiousness. There’s even a badly-performed internal “playlet”, prefiguring what will be done by the rude mechanicals scenes of “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

I have to confess to having a weak spot for this sort of stuff. I revel in the English language, and gleefully feast on the wordplay here. In this play, Shakespeare gets to paradoxically “have his word-burgers and scoff at them, too.” He indulges in the worst excesses of the language, all while making fun of those who also indulge. As an example, at one point, Berowne expostulates on how such language excesses will forthwith be out of his discourse, yet he expostulates in the form of a perfectly constructed sonnet.

For this production, some of the cast (occasionally) fell into a rote recitation of the admittedly difficult pontificatings, making a few too many scenes plod rather than soar. The women especially too often disappear into bland sameness, fuzzying the distinctions enjoyed by the male characters. Still, these (few) lapses are more than overcome by the Tavern’s usual over-the-top clowning and cleverly conceived concepts.

Leading the cast is Jeff McKerley as Berowne and Andrew Houchins as Ferdinand. Both bring to their performances their usual skill and charm and both bring enough of themselves into the performances to make these renditions very different than those I’ve seen before. They are joined by Daniel Parvis and Jonathan Horne as their other friends, by a flamboyantly silly Jeff Watkins as Don de Armado and Matthew Felton’s cleverer servant Moth. On the female side, Heidi Cline McKerley is credited as playing Rosaline, but I believe at this particular performance, the role was filled by director Laura Cole. Mary Russell brings a convincing playfulness AND seriousness to the Princess of France, but the other ladies go through their paces in a skillful, yet undistinctive way. I also have to confess to not being particularly over-whelmed by Tony Brown’s Costard or Doug Kaye’s Holofernes, though, again, neither did anything especially wrong – just not especially memorable. In smaller roles, I did enjoy Matt Baum’s dull-faced Constable Dull, and Rivka Levin over-exuberant Jaquenetta.

Ms. Cole has opened the play on a note plainsong sobriety that quickly degenerates into Pythonesque silliness that totally foreshadows the mix of moods that is to come. The staging of the “Nine Worthies” play-within-a-play is over-the-top funny, especially Mr., Felten’s undersized and over-dramatic Hercules vs Serpent. I still fall into a fit of giggles at its recall. And, the play closes on a sad, “loves lost” note that echoes the opening and paradoxically “feels” right.

My criticisms, however, are mere quibbles in what is a charmingly reverent romp into letting yourself be hoist on the petard of your own words. These courtiers do not get away with their casual oath-breaking, and the ending is a nicely elegiac mood-song that runs totally counter to the “every jack shall have his Jill” ending of Shakespeare’s happier work. For me, this ending grounds the play in a way that is more sophisticated (and compelling) than some of Shakespeare’s more mature comedies, and reminds us that words are more than banquets, that they have real meaning and real consequences. “The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.”

As last words go, it’s not bad.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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