Love’s Labor’s Lost
I have a confession to make: I’m not really a Shakespeare fan. Maybe you aren’t either, but I’m a writer. I majored in English, and I teach writing. It’s sacrilege, but I’ve never much cared for him. I often don’t understand his work, and I find his archetypical characters and oft-used techniques boring.
And yet, I still recommend Love’s Labor’s Lost, on stage this and next weekend at the Brewery Arts Center.
Because Shakespeare is so difficult to follow, I appreciate when actors make his language understandable. This BAC version, which was produced and directed by Christopher James, includes (mostly) capable, funny actors who take their characters to heart and make sense of them.
For a comedy, Love’s Labor’s Lost is really too wordy, complex and philosophical, and the plot follows some well-worn Shakespearean paths. It’s really hard to make that funny, and yet this version does. The five-act play opens in Navarre in Spain. The King, played by Joseph Paslov, has asked his three loyal subjects, Berowne, Longaville and Dumaine to take an oath that they will swear off earthly pleasures—sleep, food and women—for a period of three years, in order to focus solely on scholarly pursuits.
Berowne, played by Warren Schader, isn’t sure about this oath business, and he doesn’t hesitate to point out that it’s unfair. But when pressed, he signs the oath, insisting that Longaville (Christopher Chen) and Dumaine (Travis Legatzke) will break it before he does. However, the minute they’ve all signed it, as you might guess, four women show up to foil their plan. The princess of France (Lynette Brown) has brought her three friends, Rosaline (Shannon Cord), Maria (Lissa Baker) and Katherine (Kris Wallek) on her errand—to demand repayment on a loan made to the King of Navarre by her father, the King of France. Because of their oath, the men insist that the ladies must stay off their property. But upon glimpsing them, the men fall instantly in love. Thus, each man secretly plots to win the heart of his chosen lady without revealing he has broken his oath.
Predictably, a series of misunderstandings and disguises ensues along the path to true love, as does a performance by the stock foolish characters that usually appear in Shakespearean comedies. There’s Don Adriano de Armado, played by Jason Macy, who is what Shakespeare called a “fantastical” Spaniard. There’s Costard the clown (Corey B. Stockton), Armado’s sarcastic page Mote (Thomas Fisk), and the ridiculous constable Dull (Nick Josten). All four add significant comic relief without really furthering the plot. Macy, whose Armado is my favorite character, is hilarious; whether he planned it or not, his accent reminded me of Hank Azaria in The Birdcage, and I mean that as high praise. Kudos also to Josten, who is “Dull” in every sense of the word yet still surprisingly funny.
Schader’s Berowne is also smart, witty and fun to watch, as is Cord, whose Rosaline is Schader’s perfect match.
To be fair, Shakespeare is tough, and yet the majority of the actors in this play do a fine job of making it work. Thanks to them, I not only understood the play easily, but I also laughed a lot.
I may have to rethink my stance on Shakespeare.