BWW Review: Finding Laughs at LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST at Orlando Shakes
Research tells us that LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST could be Shakespeare's first comedies. It is also a Shakespearean comedy that stands the test of time with a plot that could be in any modern day romantic comedy film. While the verse is long winded, the plot is easy to follow and provides great belly laughs that are worth sticking through.
This play that has Shakespeare's longest scene, longest act, and longest word, but while these attributions feel heavy, the show is lighthearted. It has a nice mix of verbal humor and quick a large amount of physical comedy. In this Orlando Shakes interpretation, LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST is set in the early 1920s (similar to the setting of THE GREAT GATSBY, which is running in repertoire). In most Shakespearean comedies there is love, marriage, then a dance. This show is not as formulaic. There is dancing, but not the type you'd expect. The dancing in Act II was by far my favorite scene because of the absurdity.
The King of Navarre and his three friends decide to commit themselves to study. As part of this vow they decide to forgo the company of women for three years. The king makes a decree that bans recreation and bans women from entering within one mile of the court. Of course, it is a shame that the Princess of France and her three friends arrive as political ambassadors shortly. All these ladies also happen to be single. As you can imagine, human nature takes over, as does hijinx.
One thing that I love about Shakes is that they take the time to educate audiences. I sat in on a pre-show chat with the director and costume designer. Director Thomas Ouellette discussed his process for cutting the original text into something palatable for modern audiences. Costume Director Denise Warner dresses the show in a way that helps the audience draw logical conclusions that are not in your face. She also had the added challenge of ensuring that costumes could be used between the two shows. It's all very interesting stuff. So if there is ever a chat back opportunity, I suggest making time for it.
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST is verse heavy, but that lends itself to more contemporary almost musical speech patterns. There is an interesting scene between Don Armado and Moth where they break out into song almost as naturally as the speaking scenes. Jim Helsinger as Don Armado steals the show anytime he is onstage. The familiar Orlando Shakes audience screamed and giggled with delight as they watched their favorite Artistic Director take the stage as the ostentatious Don. Accompanied by his assistant Moth (Maxel Garcia), the duo is an unstoppable force of entertainment.
Christian Ryan romances as Lord Biron. Though he gives long emblazoned speeches about being in love, Biron is the voice of reason and connects well with the audience. Ryan is passionate, yet light enough to keep the humor. All the men work well together. There is a definite sense of brotherhood, but they are still men. The women, while fairly indistinguishable aside from their costumes, are wickedly witty.
Jacob Dresch plays Costard, a simple man from the kingdom who serves as the catalyst for all things that go wrong. Dresch dropped Shakespeare's longest word without a flinch like he uses it every day: "honorificabilitudinitatibus." Dresch has a great look when playing Costard best described as seemingly unhinged. During the presentation of the Nine Worthies, which is the play within the play, Dresch owns his overly dramatic role.
The set is one space that does not change. There is an upstage turntable, not in a LES MIS sort of way, but a quick donut-like rotating piece. This device is used to bring people into the scene rather than stage pieces. It is not overused and if anything adds to humor. The use of projection in the back was clever and done artistically. As a stage tool, it helps draw time because the set itself does not change.
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST is at times laugh out loud funny. There are so many scenes that I wish I could see again. With great direction by Thomas Ouellette, LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST runs concurrently in repertoire with THE GREAT GATSBY now through March 24, 2017. For tickets and more information visit orlandoshakes.org.
Orlando Shakes also just announced their 2017 - 2018 season! Broadway veteran Davis Gaines returns again to headline MAN OF LA MANCHA. To read the whole upcoming season click here (/orlando/article/Orlando-Shakespeare-Theater-Announces-Season-29-20170223).
Photo credits Header: Jim Helsinger as Don Adriano de Armado stars in Orlando Shakespeare Theater's production of Love's Labour's Lost. Photo by Tony Firriolo.
Inline: Matthew Goodrich as Longaville, Blaine Edwards as Dumaine, Buddy Haardt as Ferdinand, and Christian Ryan as Biron star in Orlando Shakespeare Theater's production of Love's Labour's Lost. Photo by Tony Firriolo.