BWW Reviews: Shakespeare Goes to the Frat House in Post5 Theatre's LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST
The best comedies always seem to be improvised right there on the spot, the one-liners and physical shtick appearing to come spontaneously from the performers. From the best Marx Brothers movies to the funniest moments of Carol Burnett and Saturday Night Live, from Monty Python to Woody Allen, the moments that make you laugh always seem to come out of nowhere. My all-time favorite TV comedy, the short-lived Sports Night, had intricately woven plots and pages of Aaron Sorkin's densest dialogue, yet the actors were able to make it feel like they were riffing on jokes they'd made up on the spot.
Which brings us, of course, to Shakespeare. Say what? Love's Labour's Lost has never been a favorite of mine - four barely-there courtships, some weird impersonations, and a melancholy ending that doesn't go with the rest of the play. The jokes never seemed funny, the characters as different from each other as pages in an unopened ream of paper, and I yawned my way through every previous production of it.
The difference is attitude, and director Avital Shira has given Post5's production a ton of it. It's set in a modern-day college, with our four heroes frat boys swearing off food, women, and fun in order to concentrate on their studies. They throw away their cell phones (and their condoms) and sign an oath to be chaste until graduation. Then in walk four gorgeous women, and the fun begins. While maintaining Shakespeare's dialogue, she directs her cast to play it as if it were sitcom dialogue, with wacky voices, sarcastic rhythms, and the rapid-fire patter of the best screwball comedies. And lo and behold, the lines aren't ancient at all; the dialogue makes perfect sense, the jokes become hilarious, and the physical comedy is as well-played as a Three Stooges routine. For example, she turns the women's gathering in Act Two into a pajama party, and the men's impersionation of "Muscovites" becomes an antic display of gymnastic prowess.
Shira has the cast to pull it off. The entire cast of twelve plays as a unit, running on and off as if being chased by Elmer Fudd. They all handle the dialogue with skill and wit. Jim Vadala as Berouwne leads the men with a snarky take on his character, and he's matched by Jessica Tidd as Rosaline, his love interest. Ithica Tell, as Boyet, the women's confidante, has the commanding presence of a warrior, the powerful deep voice of James Earl Jones, and the goofy cadences of an African-American Valley Girl, which all adds up to a great character.
Hans Eleveld and Max Maller each play two roles, while Jordin Bradley and Allison Rangel each tackle one female role and one male role, which adds to the humor. Maller and Eleveld have a brilliant moment when they turn Shakespeare into rap, complete with beatboxing, and they get the audience hooting along. Jeff Painter is all relaxed charm as the lowlife Costard, while Danielle Chaves, as his love interest, Jacquenetta, gives as good as she gets - and joins him for a couple of low-key musical numbers.
Rounding out the cast are Will Steele and Danielle Frimer, as the King and the Princess, who bear their nobility lightly and find moments to be just as mischievous as their pals, and Jean-Luc Boucherot as the worldly Don Adriano, who delivers lusty monologues in a French accent. They're all swell.
Director Shira even manages to make the play's ending, which still comes out of nowhere and dampens the fun and games, believable and even touching, and her cast rises to the occasion. I have to admit I was dreading seeing this play; as stated above, my prior experiences of it were not positive. But this was a glorious evening of theater, and I thank everyone at Post5 for a grand show.
P.S.: If you're going, remember that this is an outdoor show. Bring something warm - it gets chilly in the courtyard - and bring something to sit on. I did neither and found myself quite cold and sore at the end of the show. But while it was going on, I was totally engrossed.