As they say, “love is a battlefield,” and every warrior on that battlefield believes they know the strategies to make love bow down to their will. Some use strategies more analytical, focusing on book smarts to reach an endgame; for others it will be the physical prowess and agility to maneuver around your opponent. But a true warrior in the battle of love understands it takes more than strategies and agility to woo your enemy; one must possess charm, a slightly flawed soul, and intelligent verbal wit to charm your prey into submission to win the battle.
The Folger Theatre’s new production of William Shakespeare’s comedy Love’s Labor’s Lost is an entertaining, energetic, and sidesplitting production of one of The Bard’s best-loved comedies. Known for its bold verbal aerobics and witty repartee, it offers audiences a ringside seat to the battlefield of dizzying and dazzling wordplay of wit and sentiment that incorporates Shakespeare’s view of the world and the relationships between men and women around him.
In its humor, the comedy centers on four men who fall in love against their wills. Agreeing to further their scholarly pursuits for the next three years, a young king and his three confidants renounce the company of women and devote themselves to study. This ambitious pact is immediately jeopardized when the Princess of France and her three companions arrive. The succeeding hilarious romantic comedy of broken vows, hidden identities, secret surrogates and even misdelivered letters shows one cannot ignore love when it presents itself, no matter how hard you try.
Director Vivienne Benesch in her directorial debut at the Folger’s is genius in using Shakespeare’s great rhythmic poetry and comic timing. Her direction allows each performers to have a flexibility with their dialogue that is truly exciting, allowing each character to share their wit and unspoken insight into the misadventure happening around them. As she unfolds the play before us, the audience is happily and stealthily drawn into an unpredictable landscape of contorted and comical word pronunciations, playing on elongated syllables and repeated words, allowing everyone to laugh along with the characters and their grammatical alliterations.
Scenic Designer Lee Savage has created a breathtaking replica of the Folger’s famous Paster Reading Room, which originally opened in 1932, re-creating it into a well-appointed library of a grand stately home. Costume Designer Tracy Christen adds to the 1930s style with a subtle whisper that suggests the fear of a 1930s upper class clinging to its past. From the long traveling dresses with jackets and little hats and over the top flapper dresses for the women, to the suits, bow ties, and dinner jackets for the men, the audience in transported back to a time when things were truly changing in sexual politics.
There are so many standouts performances in this production it’s hard to pick just one. Zachary Fine is an exceptional comedic talent as Berowne, the first of the King’s men to break the oath before he even signs the King’s pact. With precision comic delivery and expression, he is the voice of reason in his merry gang. Eric Hisson as the love-sick Don Armado is a master of comic timing with his stellar use of a parting glance or gesture, bringing the audience to the edge of their seats with rip-roaring laughter as we all commiserate in his task to win his lady love. Other great standouts include Luis Butelli as Holofernes, Susan Rome as Nathaniel, and Edmund Lewis as Costard.
Add this production of Love’s Labor’s Lost to your “to see” list. It’s by far one of the best performances I’ve personally seen in quite a long time. Despite its reputation as one of the toughest plays to stage in Shakespeare’s folio, you wouldn’t know this. One of the best kept secrets about Washington DC Theater is they’re powerhouse in the world of theater, and this production is keeping that secret no longer.