For fans of Shakespeare’s comedies, Love’s Labour’s Lost should not be overlooked. Often brushed off as a draft for Shakespeare’s later hits, there is joy and humor in this play that would be criminal to dismiss. The performers in the Folger Theatre’s current production, directed by Vivienne Benesch, rise to the challenge at every turn and carry the audience along for a raucous and heartfelt ride.
Says the Folger, “To further their scholarly pursuits, a young king and his three confidants renounce the company of women to devote themselves to study. The ambitious pact, however, is immediately jeopardized when the Princess of France and her three companions arrive.” Through banter, charm, and with the help of a few letters gone awry, the men soon find their willpower might not be up to the task of their vows.
The set, from designer Lee Savage, is a reproduction of the Folger Library’s own Paster Reading Room, from its grand wooden staircase, to the stained glass depiction of the “Seven Ages of Man” from As You Like It. The period of the show is consequently deemed 1932, the year the Folger opened, and while there appears to be no real reason for that choice outside of an opportunity to show off the splendor of the Reading Room, Savage’s design makes the choice worth it. The stage is a phenomenal reproduction, littered with allusions to the world of the Folger, including a replica of the iconic Puck statue, and a Folio that, while I couldn’t confirm, I can only assume was open to the opening page of the Love’s Labour’s Lost itself.
The cast contains not a single weak link. Each actor, undaunted by act-long scenes chock-full of physical comedy, discovered every joke there was to be found, leaving the audience in constant laughter. With charm and some judicious fourth-wall-breaking, there was no doubt that the audience was rooting for each and every member of the 15-person cast. Dancing through endless couplets and non-stop rhymes, the actors showed what it is to masterfully work such a text.
Amelia Pedlow and Kelsey Rainwater star as the Princess of France and her companion Rosaline, and their wit is matched equally by Joshua David Robinson’s King of Navarre and Zachary Fine’s Berowne. Equally charming and nimble are Yesenia Iglesias (Maria), Chani Wereley (Katherine), Matt Dallal (Longaville), and Jack Schmitt (Dumaine) as the rest of the courtly lovers. Particularly noteworthy was Eric Hissom’s Don Armado, a Spanish Falstaff-prototype brought in to entertain the King, who, with the unyielding help of Megan Graves’s Mote, had the audience in the palm of his hand by the end of his first scene.
In an early version of Midsummer’s rude mechanicals, Louis Butelli (Holofernes), Susan Rome (Nathaniel), Edmund Lewis (Costard), Tonya Beckman (Boyet, Jacquenetta), and Josh Adams (Dull, Marcade) round out the cast as the court’s comedic entertainment. Not as strong as the A and B plots, the text they’re dealt is perhaps over-laden with Latin jokes that are hard to land with a modern audience. But Lewis’s portrayal of “Pompey the Big” is enough to make it worth it.
The Folger Theatre’s season has been focused on characters that “shake the world,” and there is no doubt that each and every person in this cast shook our audience with endless laughter. And with its celebration of the Folger and DC history, this show is well worth the trip for local audiences.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
Love’s Labor’s Lost is now extended through June 16, 2019 at Folger Theatre in the Folger Shakespeare Library— 201 E. Capitol Street SE in Washington DC. For tickets call the box office at (202) 544-7077 or purchase them online.