Review: ‘Love’s Labor’s Lost’ at Quintessence Theatre Group

Quintessence Theatre Group brings William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, as directed by Alexander Burns, vibrantly to life with spectacular staging, scintillating costumes and a sparkling cast.

Christopher Garofalo, John Williams, Lee Cortopassi and Ashton Carter. Photo by Shawn May.
Christopher Garofalo, John Williams, Lee Cortopassi and Ashton Carter. Photo by Shawn May.

The King of Navarre, Ferdinand (Lee Cortopassi), has convinced his complement of Lords – Berowne (John Williams), Longaville (Ashton Carter) and Dumaine (Christopher Garofalo) – to swear off women for three years and dedicate themselves instead to study. All agree (though Berowne is initially reluctant), until a French princess (Mattie Hawkinson) and her three ladies – Rosaline (Dana Kreitz), Katherine (Aneesa Neibauer) and Maria (Kristin Devine) – come to visit. Then study becomes muddied and “love, first learned in a lady’s eyes… are the books, the arts, the academes….” The problem is that the men have also incorporated a penalty that “on pain of losing her tongue,” no woman may advance within a mile of the King’s court. This makes things especially awkward, since the men are completely besotted, writing secret sonnets to the objects of their affections, who are by necessity of oath lodged aways in a ‘field’ (and not happy about that from the start). As a way around this dilemma, the King and his Lords decide to hold a dance, arriving in disguise, only to be one-upped by the Princess and her Ladies who know their ruse and swap identifying baubles fooling the men in turn. Cupid’s arrows are double-dipped in love and laughter as the sparring between the sexes ensues.

Duplicity, misguided messengers, mocking and multiple plots make for much merriment as love’s follies unfold upon a delightfully lighted, delicately appointed multilevel set, designed by Alexander Burns, highlighting the words and wit of Shakespeare which are wonderfully, ofttimes wickedly (in the best way) delivered by a superb acting ensemble. Scene changes, entrances and other interludes have been transformed by hip dance music and Kaki Burns’ cool choreography, under David Sexton’s funky lighting schemes. Not to be missed is the hilarious entrance of the court men to the Dance disguised as Muscovite basketball players in shiny sports shorts, shaking their way towards the ladies to one of the hottest groove tunes ever! The women’s reactions are fabulous as well, as they are the ones truly calling the shots. Christina Bullard’s dynamic costuming is a joy to behold – predominately modern, yet evoking a sense of the times and class differences (the Russian outfits excepted).

Standing: John Williams, Mattie Hawkinson, Lee Cortopassi, Michael Gamache, John Basiulis, Aneesa Neibauer, Christopher Garofalo, Gregory Isaac, Kirstin Devine, Ashton Carter and Josiah Jacoby. On the ground, Daniel Miller and Josh Carpenter. Photo by Shawn May.
Standing: John Williams, Mattie Hawkinson, Lee Cortopassi, Michael Gamache, John Basiulis, Aneesa Neibauer, Christopher Garofalo, Gregory Isaac, Kirstin Devine, Ashton Carter and Josiah Jacoby. On the ground: Daniel Miller and Josh Carpenter. Photo by Shawn May.

Movement around the thrust stage is engaging, well thought-out and executed, and the playing space is well-utilized with characters entering via upstage steps and occasionally exiting through the house. John Williams, as the sensible Berowne, makes excellent use of his surroundings to reach out and make a little eye contact with the audience as he deftly delivers his lines. Daniel Miller, in his role as the message switching swain Costard, interacts with the crowd as well. A contrasting, lower-brow set of characters includes the swashbuckler Don Adriano de Armado, given a gloriously hilarious swagger and humdinger accent by Josh Carpenter; his sassy adolescent servant Moth, smartly played by Josiah Jacoby; Gregory Isaac playing a pedant using his talent for prose; and John Basiulis, proving his comic ability in a play-within-a-play segment. Hearing Shakespeare done in a New York City accent, as performed by Michael Gamache who does dual duty as Constable Dull and Lord Boyet of France, is also a must. All of these warring courtiers of amour vivify the romantic comedy with superb pop and sizzle; they help to make the production electrifying.

Over four hundred years have passed since the Bard wrote Love’s Labor’s Lost, and still, in 2017, at the Sedgwick Theater, a nearly full house of people laughed at the jokes, applauded the players, and perhaps came to believe that, to this day, love may conquer all.

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with an intermission.

Gregory Isaac, Michael Gamache, Daniel Miller, Josh Carpenter, John Basiulis and Josiah Jacoby. Photo by Shawn May.
Gregory Isaac, Michael Gamache, Daniel Miller, Josh Carpenter, John Basiulis and Josiah Jacoby. Photo by Shawn May.

Love’s Labor’s Lost plays through April 21, 2017 at Quintessence Theatre Group performing at The Sedgwick Theater – 7137 Germantown Avenue (Mount Airy), in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets call (215) 987-4450, or purchase them online.