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love's labour's lost

Love’s Labour’s Lost At The Stratford Festival

The Stratford Festival’s production of William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost is giving some younger and newer members of the company a chance to brush up their Shakespeare.

The presence of a number of seasoned pros in the cast is no doubt beneficial for the development of their less experienced colleagues, but it makes for an uneven rendering of one of my favorite Shakespeare comedies. (The play clearly has a loyal following since its too-short run at the Studio Theatre was sold out before it opened!)

Love’s Labour’s Lost tells the story of what happens when Ferdinand, the king of Navarre (Jordin Hall), talks three of his lords and good buddies, Berowne (Tyrone Savage), Dumaine (Chanakya Mukherjee), and Longaville (Chris Mejaki), into joining him in a three-year immersion course in philosophy. It’s a tough sell because it will involve not just a monkish existence but total abstinence from the opposite sex. With some reluctance on the part of Berowne the deal is sealed.

Alas, this fateful decision is followed close upon by the arrival a diplomatic mission headed by the princess of France (Celia Aloma), heir to the throne, and the courtier Boyet (Steve Ross), her wise senior advisor.

Also in the delegation are three ladies in waiting to the princess, among whom the acerbic Rosaline (Amaka Umeh) is the most prominent. I need hardly mention that they are all ravishingly beautiful.

Hilarity ensues as the quartet of newly-minted philosophical anchorites fall madly in love, conveniently enough each with a different lady. When Boyet informs the ladies that the men of Navarre are coming in disguise to have sport with them, the more level-headed women decide to wreak their revenge.

Adding to the fun, Shakespeare stirs in a delightful collection of comic characters – the visiting Spaniard Don Armado (Gordon S. Miller) and his young page, Moth (Christo Graham), the pedant Holofernes (Michael Spencer-Davis), and the curate Nathaniel (Matthew Kabwe), among others.

Director Peter Pasyk has cut the script with abandon, creating a sort of Love’s Labour’s Lite that runs just under two hours with no intermission. The bare outlines of the plot remain crystal clear and the cast has a great deal of fun with it, but much – too much in my estimation – has been left on the cutting room floor.

Shakespeare’s careful contrasting of men’s “love at first sight” lust and women’s wiser, more considered approach to choosing romantic partners gets lost in the rush and none of the romantic relationships have sufficient time to marinate.

The newer members of the company have more to learn about making Shakespeare’s poetry sound conversational, or even simply understandable. Too often speeches written in rhyming couplets devolve into a sing-song delivery.

Even so, this truncated Love’s Labour’s Lost is not without its enjoyments, thanks largely to the seasoned Stratford regulars in the cast. Berowne is one of the juiciest Shakespeare roles for a young leading man and Tyrone Savage makes the most of it. He manages to be charming even at his boorish, bro-ish worst and he handles the character’s prolix mansplaining speeches with aplomb.

As Don Armado, the “fantastical Spaniard,” Gordon S. Miller is enjoyably over the top. Michael Spencer-Davis is excellent as Holofernes as is Steve Ross as Boyet.

Of the younger company, I was impressed by Wahsontí:io Kirby as Costard. She simply lays it out there as if she was in the most contemporary play imaginable and it works beautifully.

The occasional dance numbers are another highlight of the production and Stephen Cota has choreographed them with a great deal of wit.

I found some of the decidedly contemporary costumes by Sim Suzer puzzling, but presumably they are what the director wanted. Julie Fox has contributed a simple and nicely functional set and Arun Srinivasan works some magic with the lighting.

Love’s Labour’s Lost runs through October 1, 2023 at the Studio Theatre. As mentioned earlier, the run is entirely sold out, although cancellations may crop up from time to time. You can check the Stratford Festival website for last-minute availability, but you might have better luck calling the box office, (800) 567-1000.

And I suppose there is always the chance the Festival will extend the run, as they have with Spamalot, which will now run into November.

Footnote: In 2015, the Stratford Festival presented a far superior production of Love’s Labour’s Lost on the main stage at the Festival Theatre. It benefited from a sumptuous production and a superb cast. Those whose curiosity is piqued by this production or those who prefer more traditional renditions of the Bard’s works will be pleased to learn that the 2015 production was filmed.

It is available on Stratfest@Home, the Stratford Festival’s own streaming service, which is the best bargain going when it comes to streaming entertainment. It is also available for sale on DVD and Blu-ray.

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