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Love’s Labor’s Lost ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
May 6, 2019 

The King of Navarre (Joshua David Robinson) has a word for the ladies of France (l to r: Yesenia Iglesias, Chani Wereley, Kelsey Rainwater). Photo by Brittany Diliberto

One of Shakespeare’s most delightful rom-coms has arrived with a fresh, new take thanks to Director Vivienne Benesch.  Set in the 1930’s with lots of modern-day dialogue, hilarious puns and wicked asides, and contemporary twists on the characters, this witty play provides plenty of laughs at the expense of egotistical, narcissistic lords who, obeying their King’s decree, forswear women, food and sleep in pursuit of higher learning.  Unfortunately for these knaves, their willpower is weak, and the ladies’ is strong.  “Young blood doth not obey an old decree,” sayeth Berowne.  It’s a sort of #MeToo for the Princess of France and her ladies-in-waiting as they lure the men, then conspire to trick them into making fools of themselves.

The King of Navarre (Joshua David Robinson, top) proclaims his court as a place of scholarly pursuit to his companions (Zachary Fine, Jack Schmitt, Matt Dallal). Photo by Brittany Diliberto

It would be just the ticket for coquettish larks, except that the women in this production can’t seem to carry it off.  I’ve never seen a cast so off-balance.  The male actors are brilliant, but the women are stilted and dull, and when they prank the men, it just seems like a gang of angry harpies, as opposed to a bit of a romp with a wink and a nod.  It’s almost as if they rehearsed in different theaters.  Perhaps it would have worked better had Shakespeare himself cast it, due to his predilection for all-male casts.

Zachary Fine as Berowne, Eric Hissom as Don Armado, Louis Butelli as Holofernes. Photo credit Brittany Diliberto

Zachary Fine as Berowne, one of the lords, is flat out, award-winning caliber, fantastic.  Totally engaging and utterly believable, he is riveting to watch in his hapless pursuit of forbidden love.  Eric Hissom as Don Armado gives us one crazy-ass Spaniard whose struggles to command the English language whilst mooning over unrequited love, will have you in stitches.  And, for added comic relief, Louis Butelli as Holofernes, the tweed-sporting pedantic who overemphasizes his diction, quite nearly steals the show, though he has some competition from Edmund Lewis as Costard, a tool belt-sporting slave who fumbles everything.

Jaquenetta (Tonya Beckman) and her admirer Costard (Edmund Lewis) in Love’s Labor’s Lost. Photo by Brittany Diliberto

There is a great deal of physical comedy for the men – in one scene they wrestle in pajamas, in another they visit the women disguised as dancing Cossacks – whereas the women just seem to stand around gossiping and griping in pretty clothes.  Not so for Susan Romeas Nathaniel whose comic flirtations with Holofernes afford us with some of the funniest, pinkies-out moments of the play.  Rome plays Nathaniel as a lady with lightning-quick aplomb.

Lee Savage’s set design is so fox clever, you have to wonder why it’s never been done before.  A reconstruction of the Folger’s own two-tiered Paster Reading Room, replete with green reading lamps, old books and stained glass window provide the perfect backdrop to the King’s demand for serious study.  The aisles provide the rest, leaving the actors to personally connect with the audience.

So, two casts – male and female – that seem to be in entirely different plays.  More’s the pity.

With Joshua David Robinson as King of Navarre; Amelia Pedlowas Princess of France; Megan Graves as Mote; Yesenia Iglesias as Maria; Kelsey Rainwater as Rosaline; Matt Dallal as Longaville; Jack Schmitt as Dumaine; Chani Wereley as Katherine; Josh Adams as Dull and Marcade; and Tonya Beckman as Boyet and Jaquenetta.

Lighting by Colin K. Bills; Costume Design by Tracy Christensen; Original Music and Sound Design by Lindsay Jones.

Through June 9that the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit website.  To follow discussions of Shakespeare’s world with some of today’s leading artists, authors and scholars you’ll find Shakespeare Unlimited podcasts entitled “Will & Our World” at www.Folger.edu/unlimited.  These are free wherever you get your podcasts.

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