Gutsy Selection, Zestful Production
Love's Labours Lost
She&Her Productions has made an ambitious selection in choosing "Love's Labour's Lost," one of Shakespeare's less frequently performed masterpieces, as its inaugural production of the season at the River's Edge Theater. And last night, before a small, opening night audience of less than 25 people, the little, relatively new community theatre in Kansas City's River Market did a valiant job pulling it off.
Under the direction of Jeremy Riggs, the production uses a bare stage with little more than two benches and some really remarkable and fabulous period costumes designed and built by Christie Artzer. The whole effect of the sparse set and costume-heavy production is strikingly similar to what the theatre audience in Shakespeare's day might have experienced. I initially wondered about the prudence of having a curtain time of 8:00, especially for a Shakespeare production, but it's time that the early-to-bed folks in K.C. experienced a curtain time more akin to that in the rest of the civilized world--and it at least allows them to have a leisurely dinner without rushing to the theatre.
The play centers on three young men who make a three-year vow of chastity in order to pursue a rigorous course of studies under Ferdinand, the King of Navarre. Immediately thereafter enter a French princess and her three ladies in waiting, resulting in libidinal frustration, confusion, and the imminent breaking of vows. The casting for this show has been wisely executed for the most part, with the strongest talent delegated to the performers who have the most important roles. Of the three young men, Berowne (Corbin Hernandez) is the central figure and his performance was the most memorable, while his paramour, Rosaline (Keely Siefers), gives him a real run for his money. As the Princess of France, Mackenzie Goodwin makes a remarkably powerful showing that evinces poise and ease onstage, and her delivery of lines shows her training and artistry.
Much of the more gratuitous comic relief emanates from the secondary plot. The Spanish braggart Don Adriano De Armado, played to the hilt by Rick Williamson, and his page Moth come into conflict with the fool Costard (Joshua Gleeson) and the dimwitted constable, appropriately named "Dull." Of the secondary characters, the performance of Gleeson's Costard, accompanied by lots of very visually funny pratfalls, really stands out as lively and inspired; the parody of classic Spanish "machismo" on Williamson's part also is certainly quite funny and memorable at times.
Riggs has created some funny stage business as well, including outfitting Moth with a very short sword, giving Maria a prop which she continually munches on (although I was not sure what it was; it seemed like a french fry), and employing the back-of-the house exit for a hunting scene. Be prepared for some measure of audience involvement, and one character at one point crawls on his knees through the second row of theatre seats. Riggs has also added in a few lines of modern dialogue to accompany the entrances and exits of the characters as background fodder, which works quite well, and has written some really great original music that is played in the background to accompany certain scenes. The Spanish music played to intensify the comic musings and machinations of Don Adriano really works to support his character and make it all the more memorable.
Obviously, Shakespearean language can be a challenge for any actor, and especially for some of the less inexperienced players, and sometimes there is a little too much close adherence to the iambic pentameter in this play--which features one of the highest ratios of poetry to prose in Shakespeare's works. A few of the performers seemed a little nervous and stiff when they first came onstage, but they seemed to loosen up as the opening night performance went on. Because the theatre is quite intimate, there is really no need for mics. Although her acting was solid, Katherine (Cassidy Kirch), could have worked a little more on her projection—although she did not have much dialogue, so it didn't detract from the play's overall success.
Overall, for a community theatre endeavor, this is a well-constructed and enjoyable show that isn't done often, and even less so in K.C., so it is definitely worth attending. And, if backstage rumors are to be believed, She&Her Productions is planning on tackling and mounting a Shakespearean work every August, so we certainly look forward to seeing what ambitious show they'll undertake next season.