Review: ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

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Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare, directed by Sally Boyett and Donald Hicken, is being performed on the grounds of St. John’s College in the historic part of the state capital.

Nate Ruleaux and Helena Farhi in Love's Labours Lost, presented by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
Nate Ruleaux and Helena Farhi in Love’s Labours Lost, presented by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

The play was one of the Bard’s earliest comedies. Many scholars feel that the foundations for several of the plays he wrote at that time, or shortly after Love’s Labour’s Lost, can be found in this comedy. You may notice comparisons to the play within a play of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the witty sharp-tongued women of As You Like It and Twelfth Night and even a sad ending that Shakespeare would shortly use and refine in Romeo and Juliet. However, Love’s Labour’s Lost is full of wit and humor with an interesting premise. Ferdinand, King of Navarre (Steven Czajkowski) and his three lords all agree to forswear women and study for three years. In addition, they promise to only sleep three hours a night, fast often and forgo most merriment. As fate would have it, the Princess and her three ladies of the court come to Navarre to speak to the king. Of course, the King falls in love with the Princess (Jessie Bissell), and the three lords also fall in love with the ladies.

Into this mix add a foppish Don Armando (Dexter Hamlett) and the commoner Costard (Gus Demos) both who fall in love with a wench named Jaquenetta (Bethany Mayo).

Of course, this would not be a Shakespearean comedy without switched letters, bawdy language, thwarted romance, switched identities and, naturally, the play within a play.

This is a fine ensemble group that adds both polish to the words and some great physical comedy. Two scenes in Act II were outstanding. In one, the King and lords disguise themselves as Muscovites. They do an outrageously funny Russian dance, perfectly choreographed. Later on the play within a play, the “actors” led by Don Armando portray various historical characters, but it disintegrates to mayhem when Don Armando and Costard fight for the love of Jaquenetta.

Standout performances should be acknowledged, but in this play it is hard to make that evaluation as they were all very talented. That being said, I particularly enjoyed Nate Ruleaux as Berowne and Helena Farhi as Rosaline. Gus Demos greatly adds to the comedy as Costard, as does Dexter Hamlett as Don Armando. Czajkowski is noble and yet foolish as King Ferdinand and Bissell captures the sharp wit of the Princess.

However, the whole cast should be commended for making this little-known comedy work so well despite the sounds of motorcycles and trucks passing by the lawn of the college. The rest of the cast includes Clay Vanderbeek as both Longaville and Forester, Ian Charles as both Dumaine and Moth, Thomas Nash Tetterton as both Constable Dull and Nathaniel, Kim Curtis as both Boyet and Holofernes, Shubhangi Kuchibhotla as Maria, and Bethany Mayo as Katherine in addition to Jaquenetta.

presented by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
Dexter Hamlett in Love’s Labour’s Lost, presented by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

This production is set in Victorian England. This is a common thread in many of the recent productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost. It works, and Sandra Spence’s costume designs are a wonderful array from that era. She even gets the Russian garb right – although I felt bad for the actors as the night was warm and the clothing long and layered.

The directorial decisions all work, from the Russian dance to the faked fights. The use of more modern and recognizable music is ingenious. You will find yourself clapping and singing along.

Thumbs up go to Sally Boyett’s sound design, and Adam Mendelson’s lighting design.

Annapolis is a beautiful place to visit this time of year. Go spend the day, have a wonderful dinner at any of the many fine restaurants and top it all of with this superb production of Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission.

Love’s Labour’s Lost plays through July 29, 2018, at Annapolis Shakespeare Company performing on the front lawn of St. John’s College, 60 College Avenue, Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513, or purchase them online.