BWW Review: LOVE'S LABEERS LOST at LiveArtDC and Grain of Sand Theatre - Shakespeare in a Frat House
Presented by LiveArtDC in collaboration with Grain of Sand Theatre, LOVE'S LABEERS LOST is Shakespeare in a frat house in a bar. Director Sara Bickler has always wanted to direct Shakespeare's LOVE'S LABOURS LOST, a little produced comedy without a happy ending. A veritable "problem play," LOVE'S LABOURS LOST requires a sizeable cast and is super wordy. Is it just me or does it seem counterintuitive to stage an adaption of this play in a bar, alongside a two-man band no less? Bickler disagrees. Love is the paramount reason to stage a play in a bar: "After all, a bar is where people go all the time in search of love that sometimes succeeds, sometimes fails, and sometimes is left hanging in the balance." Bickler's reasoning is perceptive and romantic but LOVE'S LABEERS LOST lacks finesse. It's still fun though! Hang on and I'll explain.
DC Reynolds is a small bar with two levels of performance space each roughly the size of an apartment living room. LOVE'S LABEERS LOST is a refreshingly innovative, interactive, movable theatre experience. A half hour before the performance proper the drinking games begin. Fully in character, actors mingle with the audience, proffering drinking card games, drunk Jenga, beerpong and happily, fries! Drinking is encouraged but not required. There are chances to win booze and volunteer throughout the performance. The vibe is welcoming and a party atmosphere is successfully executed. The two-man band, A Rustic Riot, self-styled "debonair Lothatrios," serenade the audience throughout the performance with their "sultry tonk & roll."
LOVE'S LABEERS LOST is a valiant attempt to reimagine Shakespeare's comedy, updated to be palatable and accessible for modern audiences. King Ferdinand of Navarre (Danny Cackley) and his friends are now frat bros in the midst of a "no women allowed party." The Princess of Aquitaine (Caitlin Partridge) and her entourage arrive, heralded by their fabulous troubadour Boyet (Niusha Nawab). Mischievous, energetic and glittery, the princess and her entourage enjoy seducing and teasing the celibate bros. Meanwhile, a visiting Spanish nobleman, Don Armado (Kerry McGee) and a member of the King's entourage, "Pledge" Costard (Matthew Taylor Strote), vie for the affections of a peasant girl, Jaquenetta.
The plot of LOVE'S LABEERS LOST is hard to follow; Shakespeare's language is so dense and the background music makes it difficult to hear the actors. Nevertheless, the actors are superb and a smart mixture of off the cuff jokes, Shakespearean witticisms, timeless buffoonery and physical comedy kept a smile on my face. Nawab delivered a memorable rap and McGee's monologues on top of the bar were notably captivating. Christopher Herring of A Rustic Riot fame did double duty as Moth, Don Armado's sounding board. The King's court includes a properly lovelorn romantic Kevin Collins a Biron, the spacy Jonathan Douglass as Dumain and Elizabeth Hansen as Longaville. Melissa Hmelnicky as Rosaline, Megan Reichelt as Katherine and Amber A. Gibson as Maria round out the Princess's entourage.
Nick Depinto is Assistant Director, Sarah Kamins is Stage Manager and Heather Whitpan is Producing Artistic Director and Costume & Prop Designer.
LiveArtDC has a history of successfully executing offbeat and immersive theater in bars, most recently the heartfelt and slick THE MERRY DEATH OF ROBIN HOOD at DC Reynolds Bar. Unfortunately, LOVE'S LABEERS LOST falls short in its execution. LOVE'S LABEERS LOST suffered from a lackluster ending, partly attributable to Shakespeare and partly attributable to an adaption that forces its actors to sing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the spirit of LiveArtDC and Grain of Sand Theatre's latest offering and appreciate that they are endeavoring to contribute something unique and dynamic to the DC theatre scene. Tired of sitting still in a darkened theater for hours on end? If you answered YES, LOVE'S LABEERS LOST is just the ticket. Stay tuned: LiveArtDC and Grain of Sand Theatre are capable of wonderful things.
LOVE'S LABEERS LOST runs until October 22nd at DC Reynolds Bar. For tickets, visit liveartdc.com or try your luck at the door one hour before showtime.
Running Time: 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission
Advisory: This production is no handicapped accessibility and admission is 21+.
Photo Credit: (top left) A Rustic Riot (House Band), Melissa Hmelnicky as Rosaline (center) and Niusha Nawab as Boyet (left). Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.