A playful party ambiance greets audiences inside the Howard Family Stage at Bard on the Beach for the opening night of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Actors in exquisite period costumes of sparkling flapper dresses and tailored three-piece suits mingle amongst the crowd and set the mood for an evening of escapades and laughter. As expected, Labour’s is a Shakespearean comedy, packed with the usual gags, quips, and puns.
Gleefully unexpected is the tuneful adaptation by director Daryl Cloran — sharp, vibrant, and risky. Some traditional Shakespeare lovers may object to the liberties Cloran has taken with the script, but this show, along with the wildly inventive Comedy of Errors at this year’s Bard, is sure to entice a new following who may normally find Shakespeare a tad stuffy.
Love’s Labour’s Lost ranks among Shakespeare’s less popular works, criticized for its overly pompous use of vocabulary and obsolete allusions making the play hard to digest for contemporary audiences. However, the uncomplicated storyline is deftly distilled by Cloran, cleaving out some of the heavier dialogue and injecting expressive musical numbers to jazz up this weighty play.
Indeed jazz music becomes the language of love for this comedy set in prohibition-era Chicago, where it isn’t hard to imagine King Ferdinand is really a “kingpin” and Princess is an acceptable name for the daughter of a rival gangster. This backdrop houses the same themes prevalent throughout the play: the struggle of private desire against imposed oppression.
The audience is transported to the hype and tension of the roaring 20’s through scenic designer Marshall McMahen’s adaptable set. A perfect collision of glitz and grit, it’s visually-gratifying whether as an in-vogue speakeasy or a backyard haven. The audience is further treated to a live on-stage band expertly directed by Ben Elliot, who also plays an unflappable Holofernes, the resident pianist at Club Navarre.
[Luisa Jojic, Lindsey Angell, Sereana Malani]
The play opens during the last night of celebration at Navarre, King Ferdinand’s trendy, illegal liquor bar. With quixotic excitement, the King (Jay Hindle) has vowed to abstain from all vices of masculine desire, including women, for a period of three years. Two of his loyal fellow gangsters, Dumain (Daniel Doheny) and the reluctant Berowne (Josh Epstein) have been coaxed to take the oath with him. However, their unrealistic plans are tested immediately by the arrival of Princess (Lindsey Angell), the daughter of Ferdinand’s chief rival, and her entourage of beautiful women (Luisa Jojic, Sereana Malani, Anna Galvin).
The men fall hopelessly in love but must suppress their overt desires in order to save face. Each attempts to secretly woo his love but their ruse falls apart as the women mock their absurd efforts. Relieved that they have all equally broken their vows, the three men are absolved to court their ladies openly. Their fantasies are crushed when a message arrives that Princess’ father has suddenly died, bringing all parties back to reality.
The women must depart to prepare for mourning. Exercising rationality, they refuse to pledge themselves to the men until a year has passed. During that time, the men must show they are worthy through various acts of altruism. This ending, while atypical for Shakespearean comedies, is apt for 1920’s Chicago, with the rise of flapper culture and women’s voting rights.
Cloran shows uncommon cleverness through his choice of setting, musical style, dance routines and incorporation of slapstick. His adaptation keeps pace as a side-splitting comedy and an energetic jazzy musical. Both Choreographer Valerie Easton and Fight Director Nicholas Harrison are instrumental to the flow and tempo of the show.
Gorgeous, opulent costumes are materialized from the creative mind of Rebekka Sørensen-Kjelstrup. Outrageously entertaining performances by the entire cast demonstrate their exceptional professionalism and unparalleled teamwork.
Particularly memorable were the trifecta of Lili Beaudoin as Moth, Don Armato’s mouthy sidekick, Andrew McNee as the bumbling Don himself and Andrew Cownden as the oblivious Costard.
Sprightly and delightful, Beaudoin plays a very credible gabby lad. McNee suffers through energetic acrobatics while maintaining an unruffled and coiffed facade. Cownden fools the audience into believing that his precise comedic timing is mere child’s play.
Come early and enjoy the lively pre-show. A Christopher Gaze mini-me waits to welcome you! Wear your sequins and fascinators and immerse in the roaring 20’s. Famed director Kenneth Branagh’s attempt to create a musical out of Love’s Labour’s Lost in 2000 was a dismal disappointment. You’ll only be disappointed if you miss Cloran’s fresh and dynamic rendition at this year’s Bard. Love’s Labour’s Lost continues at the Howard Family Stage through September 20.
Photos by David Blue.