Theatre Review: ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ at Shakespeare Tavern

Shakespeare Tavern is running one of the Bard’s high comedies, “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” directed by Jaclyn Hoffmann, through Jan. 27.

Scholars usually lump the play in with more frequently performed comedies such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Twelfth Night.” “Love’s Labour’s Lost” is not a great play, but on the stage it offers many delights and great variety, and above all, poetry in abundance. Sometimes people forget that in the text the words are all we have, but the original experience was a combination of color, music, dancing, song, and of course movement. Shakespeare’s lesser plays cannot be appreciated without action, and the Tavern’s stalwart players endeavor mightily to give us just that.

Some scholars think it’s likely that this play was written for a select audience rather than for the general public. Be that as it may, we need nimble actors with verve and imagination, and thankfully, we’ve got them.

Ferdinand, the King of Navarre (Tamil Periasamy) and his three best buds—Berowne (Chris Hecke), Longaville (Cory Phelps), and Dumain (J. L. Read) all swear to a preposterous proposal/public oath to study together and forsake women and romance for three years (“Our court shall be a little academe, still and contemplative in living art”).

One could say the theme of the play is Cupid’s revenge: Their honor is immediately tested by the arrival of the Princess of France (Sarah Newby Halicks) and her three gal pals—Rosaline (Kelly Criss), Maria (Tatyana Arrington), and Katharine (Amanda Lindsey). The women have sworn no such oath.

Berowne, whom we would have to consider the play’s protagonist, meets his match in the dark lady Rosaline (“A whitely wanton with a velvet brow, with two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes…Well, I will love, write, sigh, pray, sue, and groan”). Mr. Hecke’s Berowne, quite dashing and confident, is a bit taken aback by Ms. Criss’ Rosaline, who is almost mockingly self-confident herself. She answers his question by repeating verbatim what he asks: “Did I not dance with you in Brabant once?” Both these actors are quite fine.

And there are plots and sub-plots in this full-length play. Costard the clown (Nicholas Faircloth) is immediately in love with Jaquenetta (Kirstin Calvert), a country wench. Armado (Anthony Rodriguez), a flamboyant Spaniard (with an amazing stage voice), is also trying his best to resist Cupid; he’s aided by Moth, his page (Adam King). And actor Drew Reeves, who isn’t dull, plays Dull, a constable.

In another movement comes Holofernes (Mary Ruth Ralston), a schoolmaster, with Nathaniel (Vinnie Mascola), a curate. They have a scene before intermission that seems rather “heavy, dull, and slow,” to quote Armado. It’s not the actors’ fault. The play is so episodic that occasionally the head spins.

Director Hofmann and her actors pull out all the stops to make the proceedings more jolly: lots of takes and double-takes; actors suddenly assuming a Southern accent; and quite a bit of audience engagement (this works very well—the Tavern’s players have this down pat). But “Love’s Labour’s Lost” is in many ways a difficult play.

The solution for the audience is to roll with the punches, enjoy the actors’ vim and vigor and physical presence (we do love live theatre); and I think a perusal of a plot synopsis before arriving would be helpful. After all, the play is built for fun, but the great Bard needs our help with this one. Even he depended on actors and audience, so join the party.

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Manning Harris

Manning Harris the theatre critic for Atlanta Intown.