Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Love's Labor's Lost
Also see Susan's review of The Faculty Room
Love's Labor's Lost is not considered one of the major plays of William Shakespeare, which allows directors and designers to take some liberties with it and not feel sacrilegious. Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company has moved Shakespeare's witty and poetic battle of the sexes into the swinging 1960s, to delightful effect.
Director Michael Kahn has taken his inspiration from the period when celebrities, notably the Beatles, discovered eastern mysticism and studied with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his ashram in India. Shakespeare's play concerns four young noblemen seeking escape from their everyday cares into an ascetic world of fasting and study, and the unexpected intrusion of a French princess and her retinue into this monastic society.
In Kahn's vision, King Ferdinand of Navarre (Amir Arison) is a wealthy Indian prince who opens his estate to spiritual pilgrims, and his guests are the members of a wildly popular American rock band: Berowne (Hank Stratton), lead guitar; Dumaine (Aubrey Deeker), guitar; and Longaville (Erik Steele), drums. The change in setting also allows composer Adam Wernick to set the characters' writings to tunes reminiscent of the period, adding to the general high spirits.
When the Princess of France (Claire Lautier) arrives with her ladies-in-waiting, they're riding Vespa scooters color-coordinated with their form-fitting jumpsuits. In later scenes, they wear sleek mini-dresses, white go-go boots, and gauzy peasant-style gowns. What's more important, they are at least as self-assured as the men, and certainly more determined to get what they want.
The shift in eras offers other pleasures as well. Costard (Michael Milligan), one of Shakespeare's rustic clowns, translates beautifully into a perpetually stoned hippie, and Boyet (Floyd King), an attendant to the Princess, is as much a fashion victim as the women, specifically in a flowered jacket and vivid red slacks. Catherine Zuber designed the sumptuous and eye-filling costumes, which also have their laugh-out-loud moments, notably, the "Russian" disguises for the young men.
Kahn's actors embrace the musicality of Shakespeare's language, also maintaining clarity throughout the convolutions of the plot. Arison and Stratton give impassioned performances, and Geraint Wyn Davies is blissfully over-the-top as Spanish nobleman Don Adriano de Armado.
Ralph Funicello has created a beautiful, diorama-like setting of palm trees and tropical foliage, all in vivid tropical colors and trimmed in Indian red and gold.
Shakespeare Theatre Company