In Review: “Love’s Labour’s Lost” presented by The Moving Company

LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST

by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Dominique Serrand, Steve Epp, and Nathan Keepers
Directed by Dominique Serrand

Presented by The Moving Company

Nathan Keepers, Heidi Bakke, and Steve Epp in The Moving Company's production of Love's Labour's Lost

Nathan Keepers, Heidi Bakke, and Steve Epp in The Moving Company’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost

Unlike probably most of the theatre going public, I happen to be intimately familiar with Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Having been in a production of the show years ago, I have an admittedly soft spot for this early Shakespearian comedy; his fourth after Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of The Shrew, and The Comedy of Errors. While it can be rough going at times (with a convoluted plot involving multiple lovers inspired by obscure historical figures, misplaced communiqués, a band of colorful characters in a slightly unrelated B plot – not to mention some of Shakespeare’s earliest workings in the blank verse that would become his calling card), it’s easy to dismiss the play. But look again and you can see echoes of comedies yet to come. In the verbose quarreling of Berowne and Rosaline, you can draw a direct line to Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. In the awkward courtship of Ferdinand, the King of Navarre and the Princess of France, you can see echoes of Henry V wooing Princess Catherine. In the pompous Spanish courtier Don Adriano de Armado we see shades of Sir John Falstaff, Touchstone, Jacques, Malvolio, Peter Bottom, and all of the other great Elizabethan buffoons. And in the Rustics that populate Navarre’s land putting on a show for the court towards the end of the play, it’s easy to compare them to the Mechanics doing the same thing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In fact, with a little sideways glancing, you can see that Love’s Labour’s Lost sets up many character tropes that Shakespeare will later return to throughout his career.

Emily King and Lucas Melsha in The Moving Company's production of Love's Labour's Lost

Emily King and Lucas Melsha in The Moving Company’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost

Its that sense of echoes of things to come that has inspired The Moving Company’s adaptation of the piece. I say adaptation because company co-founders Dominique Serrand, Steve Epp, and Nathan Keepers have gone through the play, purged a lot of extraneous material from it (overly complex plot lines, extraneous characters, etc.) re-assigned necessary lines, and pulled additional lines from Shakespeare’s other thirty-six plays to flesh out the script. And after a successful run earlier this fall at Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Minneapolis-based company returns home for a run at The Lab Theater. As you can guess, this Shakespearian mashup is a mixed bag with some terrific performances existing cheek by jowl with some puzzling moments.

In this version of the tale, Ferdinand, the former King of Navarre (Hugh Kennedy) has lost the war and he and and his three closest comrades – Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville (Jim Lichtscheidl, Ricardo Vasquez, and Lucas Melsha) – have vowed to spend the next three years in hermitage; studying, fasting, and foregoing the company of women. As if on cue, the Princess of France (Jennifer Baldwin Peden) arrives to settle the final treaty with Navarre along with her retinue of Rosaline (Maggie Chestovich), Katherine (Ashlie Rose Montondo), and Maria (Emily King). Meanwhile the Spanish courtier Don Adriano de Armado (Steve Epp) and his page Moth (Nathan Keepers) are fighting over the country wench Jacquenetta (Heidi Bakke). Hilarity, misunderstandings, misplaced letters, and romance, naturally ensues.

Jim Lichtscheidl and Maggie Chestovich in The Moving Company's production of Love's Labour's Lost

Jim Lichtscheidl and Maggie Chestovich in The Moving Company’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost

While I don’t necessarily agree with the tampering of the script, I can see why it was done. And it’s not like this company hasn’t done it before; Serrand and Epp routinely did this sort of thing to great acclaim during their tenure at Theatre de la Jeune Lune. But admittedly there were places in the adaptation that unnecessarily stretched points of the story where the audience was already ahead of while condensing and glossing over necessary plot points. Additionally, this production also plays into Jeune Lune’s house style of Jacques Lecoq meets commedia dell’arte physical work with the characters; and while it works with some of the characters, others suffer for it. This was apparent in the performances of Jim Lichtscheidl and Maggie Chestovich as Berowne and Rosaline. Both are gifted verbal and physical comedians and are indeed quite funny on stage together. The problem is that their energy was so jittery the night that I saw it that it managed to thwart any real connection that these two characters could have; which was exacerbated by the twitchy stage business that they had to do. Additionally, the added material in this adaptation for both Berowne and Rosaline – already one of the most verbose couples in the Shakespearian cannon – seemed to unnecessarily muddy their storyline and weighed down the performances as a result. Again Lichtscheidl and Chestovich could have had an off night (it happens, even to actors as good as these two), but the cumulative results of these hinderances at this particular performance worked against them.

Maggie Chestovich and Heidi Bakke in The Moving Company's production of Love's Labour's Lost

Maggie Chestovich and Heidi Bakke in The Moving Company’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost

All of that being said, there was some genuine magic to be found in this production. Serrand’s elegant staging was sparse but effective, and the physical production (with Serrand’s set design, costumes by Sonya Berlovitz, lighting by Marcus Dilliard, and sound by Zach Humes) was gorgeous and featured some ingenious effects that have to be seen to be believed. And while the adaptation hindered the central couple of the play, it actually helped several of the other characters. The Princess of France has always always been a tricky role with several difficult tonal shifts. Thankfully Jennifer Baldwin Peden’s strong performance uses the additional lines to lend gravitas to the character and made the shifts believable, especially in the jarring final scene. Dumaine and Katherine have always been considered one of the Bard’s “typical young lovers;” sweet, if just a little naive. Ricardo Vasquez and Ashley Rose Montondo bring a lot of swooning romanticism and a bit of bite to these admittedly sappy roles. And while it could have been gimmicky to make Longaville and Maria mute, it worked like gangbusters thanks to Lucas Melsha and Emily King’s committed physical performances. Yet among this company of equals, Heidi Bakke manages to steal the show as the misguided Jacquenetta. Like a kewpie doll come dementedly to life, Bakke’s wickedly knowing take on the character is utterly hilarious and more than holds her own against Epp and Keeper’s gut-busting Don Adriano and Moth; making a formidable comedic trio.

In adapting and re-imaginging Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Moving Company was hoping to create (in their words) “a mad festival of lovers, lunatics, and poets, let loose upon the verdant meadow of Shakespeare’s mind.” And while the final production isn’t completely perfect, it’s still a fascinating, romantic, and often magical take on a very odd play.

The Moving Company’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost continues through December 21 at The Lab Theater, located at 700 N 1st St in Minneapolis. Performances are Thursdays – Sundays at 7:30pm. Tickets are $20-32 and can be purchased on The Lab Theater’s site.

Photo Credit: Richard Tyler Rowley for Actor’s Theatre of Louisville

Video Credit: The Moving Company

Originally Published on 3 December 2014 for l’étoile.

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