Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Directed by Jason and Lauren Morgan
Set Design – Jason Morgan
Scenic Design – Lauren Morgan
Lighting Design – Bryan Douglas
Sound Design – Lauren Morgan and Jennifer Stewart
Costume Design – Lauren Morgan
Props Design – Jennifer Stewart
Props Artisan – Jean Jeske
Stage Manager – Cornelius Austin
King Ferdinand – Andrew Manning
Lord Berowne - Chris Rothbauer
Lord Longville – Robert Twaddell
Lord Dumaine – Brad Stephens
Princess of France – Lauren Morgan
Lady Rosaline – Shannon Garcia
Lady Maria – Karen Matheny
Lady Katharine – Lindsay Hayward
Boyet – Kim Titus
Marcadé – Adam Kullman
Don Adriano de Armado – Tyler Shults
Moth – Samantha Snow
Sir Nathaniel – Delmar H. Dolbier
Holofernes – Michael Johnson
Anthony Dull – Terry Yates
Costard – Richard Stubblefield
Jaquenetta – Stephanie Glenn
Reviewed Performance 2/18/2017
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Love’s Labour’s Lost is the second production of SSG’s Shakespeare Festival, Love’s Labour’s Won, playing in repertory with Much Ado About Nothing at the Sanders Theater in Fort Worth. This Festival name is a play on a rumor that there may have been a sequel to Love’s Labour’s Lost, called Love’s Labour’s Won. It might even have been renamed, Much Ado About Nothing.
Love’s Labor’s Lost uses wordplay and pedantic humor that played well when audiences knew the targets of ridicule and the references were current. This play is a romp through the meanings and sounds of words in verse and prose. But in this romp, there’s a bit of self-poking fun and maybe a little stab into the heart of 1600’s English belief systems.
Shakespeare was a poet who filled his plays with poetry in the midst of prose. This play is one in which verse comprises most of the text and the challenge for actors is to avoid a sing-song of rhyming poetry to make dialog and monologs sound conversational. This production did a fantastic job of making the dense text accessible with natural speech.
The basic story follows. The King of Navarre, Ferdinand, and his Lords, Berowne, Longville and Dumaine, make a pact to forego love and merriment to further their self-development for 3-years. At the same time, the Princess of France and her Ladies-in-waiting, Rosaline, Maria and Katharine, arrive in Navarre to discuss the status of the Aquitaine and repayment of a disputed loan. But because of Navarre’s new edict against women in the castle, the French visitors must camp in the adjoining park. Negotiations devolve into affairs of the heart and normal decorum disappears. There are sober lessons to be learned.
Audiences who saw Much Ado About Nothing will notice the same setting, though now Leonata’s Italian villa is the park outside Ferdinand’s castle. This is in Southern France / Northern Spain on the Atlantic coast.
Lauren and Jason Morgan, who directed both plays, also designed the set and scenery to share across both shows. They used multilevel towers with platforms in facades of stone, an arbor frame, and a balcony representing part of the castle. The park was filled with plants, trees and numerous flower baskets. The large fallen log and stump provided places for the many pratfalls and faux hiding sequences. Lighting by Bryan Douglas brought out the subtle colors in the set and created a warmth and love-enhancing atmosphere.
Sound effects, as in Much Ado, involved bird sounds, but this time they were sea gulls on a distant sea. Flamenco guitar music appeared as a Spanish character’s theme music and other music announced the French delegation with flourishes of horns.
Lauren Morgan’s costume designs were much like Much Ado costumes, ornate with color schemes in browns, tans greens and other highlight colors for certain characters. Frills were in. The French characters wore more decorative and bouffant dresses as befits Parisian courtly styles. Male costumes for the Lords changed a bit, perhaps to a late 1780s style with silks and fabric jackets and decorative jewelry and accessories. Boots gave way to above-knee poufy pants over thigh-high stockings and decorative shoes. The Lords of Navarre wore little flat-top berets, looking a bit like a neighborhood watch team. Other characters wore more outlandish costumes, each according to their station in life. There was a point when a bunch of Russians showed up in Cossack garb, but that’s for you to discover. The costumes for some actors were a major part of what made the characters, especially the minor characters.
This was not a weapon-wielding society, so no swords were used in the making of this show, other than a toy wooden sword in one scene. But there were many hand items for each character, things within the set, things on their costumes and other items they brought for stage business. Props Design again went to Jennifer Stewart and Jean Jeske as Prop Artisan.
The surface themes in this story were about masculine bravado, deception, and the desire for love while trying to follow an agreement to avoid love. In a historical time when females were viewed as lower than males in status and stature, Shakespeare gave us a story that shows men getting schooled by the women, who both feign to support the edict but also scoff at it. But this is just the basic story. There are other themes under the surface that mean more to Shakespeare and his audiences.
The cast was mostly shared with Much Ado. In this play, there’s basically two casts. Four royal Lords of Navarre and four royal Ladies of France, plus their courtier, a French Lord travelling as an advisor is the cast that tells the main story of love and deceit. But a second cast of archetypal characters fill in details about that story, make dialog sparkle among the primary cast, and provide connections between scenes. It’s these minor characters however, like fools and clowns and such, who say things the author wants to say when poking fun at aristocratic royalty, including Queen Elizabeth I in this play’s opening performances. It’s that second cast that digs into the more subtle areas of English cultural practices and question everything the upper crust holds dear.
Lauren Morgan stepped into a major role as the French Princess. The Princess is there to negotiate terms of settlement with the King of Navarre on behalf of the King of France. She quickly takes becomes the more powerful of the two. Her arrival challenges the new Navarre anti-love edict, but she then becomes an even bigger challenge to Ferdinand, played by Andrew Manning. It’s the gentle sparring between these two about courtly manners and deceit that provides the framework for the story. Manning’s King Ferdinand walked a tightrope as he acted both royal, and thus superior and macho, and at the same time confused, off-center and challenged by the quick wit and firm hand of the Princess. For her part, Morgan allowed her Princess to walk deftly, both challenging him, but also leaving a door slightly ajar for the King to walk through once he figured himself out. Their dance towards love was rocky, but the connection was unmistakable.
Three more couples expanded this love dance to a larger group, showing that the affliction of love is spread broadly. There’s power in groups, good and bad. Brad Stephens as Lord Dumaine and Lindsay Hayward as Lady Katherine were characters with different personalities from the monarchs, each with their own style of finding love while fighting the urge to admit they had any. As well, Robert Twaddell as Lord Longville, and Lady Maria (pronounced with a long i), played by Karen Matheny, added a different layer as a couple who was much more eager to scrap the Navarre edict and engage more physically than the rest.
Group dynamics was at play here, with the men showing how a group can imagine crazy ideas and then lie and deceive to make them right (“alternative facts” perhaps?), while the women showed how the power of the group can protect members of the group and enhance their power. In every case, especially as each man struggled with how to express his love to his own lady, each Lady turns their discovery of that man’s deceit back on them. These actors relished in their roles and made their characters believable and likable, even as we watched them struggle and fail.
The main characters in this story are Berowne and Rosaline. Lord Berowne, played by Chris Rothbauer, is thought to be Shakespeare’s voice exploring his own struggles with love. Lady Rosaline, played by Shannon Garcia, is Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, to whom he wrote one-fifth of his Sonnets. Rothbauer’s Berowne (pronounced Ber-OWN) is the only Lord of Navarre who questions the veracity of living 3-years without love. Although he capitulates to the group and signs the agreement, it’s his monologues that pose great questions of meaning and suggests the natural power in relationships. In this, Rothbauer provided a soulful, self-revealing approach to these questions. Berowne’s struggle with his feelings for Rosaline creates a deeper level to the story line. For her part, Garcia’s Rosaline creates a foil to Berowne, as her sharp wit and razor tongue challenges him at every turn. While Garcia shows Rosaline feeling for his feeble attempts to woo her, Garcia uses powerful voice and piercing eyes to put Berowne in his place and ensure she’s not a shrinking violet. One could imagine these characters as Benedick and Beatrice of the Much Ado story. But possibly this relationship is Shakespeare struggling with his Dark Lady, a woman of mystery, perhaps an illicit affair, someone Shakespeare sees as endearing and powerful. What’s enticing about these sub-stories is that they add deep layers of complexity to a simple story and make Love’s Labour’s Lost a more compelling play.
The secondary cast of characters are considered “minor” in theater parlance. But Shakespeare assigned important text and story revelation into his minor characters. Exposition comes from their lines and often they deliver the critical messages about themes through their succinct lines and minor monologues. It’s common for a minor character to utter a benign line that turns a storyline on its ear. And they are often the more interesting characters in the canon. There are nine minor characters, if we include Boyet, played by Kim Titus. He is a connector between the Lords and Ladies, while providing delicious moments of humor and comment on what other characters are doing. Titus fit this part well, as his Lordly demeanor made Boyet both playfully challenging to the Ladies while being put in his place by them. All of these characters are archetypal in structure, meaning they portray well-known personality types, a la, Commedia dell’arte, though not the same types. The simple (dumb) man, a buffoon performer, the voice of morality, an educated, though pedantic, scholar are all especially important for this story because one theme is the excessive wordplay English society loved, especially when wedded to Shakespeare’s poetic verse and playful sonnets. These characters poke fun at this wordplay by parroting, mimicking and bastardizing highbrow wordplay, and then commenting on its falsity.
Each actor who played one of these roles was excellent, sharp in their delivery, fully committed to their character’s flaws and idiosyncrasies. Even Moth, the young “boy” aide to Don Armado, was critical to the story flow. Played by Samantha Snow with great enthusiasm and innocence, Moth is informed by a quiet understanding of street morals that contribute to the commentary on the veracity of other characters’ actions, especially her Master’s odd behavior.
The buffoon type was Don Adriano de Armado, a visiting Spanish self-defined knight. It’s he who other characters mock as he is self-absorbed and extreme in his word use, to the consternation of everyone. Tyler Shults played Armado with a complete over-exaggeration of voice, vague Spanish accent, and physical movement. And yet, even this character falls in love with Jaquenetta, played by Stephanie Glenn, as the buxom blonde farm girl. This showed a deeply vulnerable side of Don Armado. Even buffoons need love. And this showed that afflictions of love exist in the lower stratus of society, so audiences, most of whom were lower-class, don’t get to gloat about the rich. Minor characters have depth. Well-acted!
An unlikely couple is the pair of academics. Holofernes is the schoolmaster, a supreme intellectual, a lover of language, and probably character English audiences wildly embraced. Michael Johnson played the pedant with such a relish that his text was perfectly phrased, even as the words and phrasing was beyond most characters’ understanding, probably beyond some of this audience’s understanding. His resonant voice made these playful words come to life, allowing us to inhale the humor in the parody. His partner is Nathaniel, a curate, something like a parish priest, who was created by Delmar H. Dolbier. In his long black robes and scholar’s hat on pure white hair, he looked like a scholar delivering a speech to graduates. Together these two made a mockery of everything we find dear about high language. That these were archetypal characters doesn’t imply they were shallow. They have feelings and they get hurt, especially by ridicule during the presentation of the Nine Worthies. Another Shakespeare staple, the play within a play is his frequent comment on the state and art of poetics, or theatrics as we know it now. This one had minor characters playing the Nine Worthy ancient heroes, such as Hercules and Pompey. Nathaniel played Alesander (the Great) and Holofernes played Judas Maccabeus, but both were mercilessly ridiculed by their ungrateful audience (a message to English audiences?). Dolbier and Johnson showed these painful moments with great skill. It’s hard to show deep pain quietly without calling attention to it. But these deeper storylines and themes made this play much more interesting than the simple tale.
This is a comedy, a bit like Seinfeld. Most humor is in the wordplay and in contextual references 1600’s audiences immediately understood, like some of the current-day references used in this review. It takes sophistication to appreciate this story fully, a bit of knowledge of Shakespeare’s life and times. But you can also watch it as a tale with a moral. Don’t make stupid rules (Mr. President?) and don’t lie to cover up your inevitable failures.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is a great show to play against Much Ado About Nothing in this SSG festival of love. One thing a lover of the Bard’s work can look for in Love's Labour's Lost is the single longest Shakespeare scene, the longest word, honorificabilitudinitatibus, and the longest monologue, although they all go by quickly enough. In any case, see one or both of these SSG productions. Take friends and family. It’s well produced, directed and acted. You will enjoy.
LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Fort Worth Community Arts Center in the Sanders Theatre
1300 Gendy St., Fort Worth, TX 76107
Runs through March 5th
Love's Labour's Lost: Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 7:30PM
Love's Labour's Lost: Friday, March 3, 2017 at 8:00PM
Love's Labour's Lost: Saturday, March 4, 2017 at 2:00PM
SSG Festival Pricing: Evenings $18, Senior/Military/Student $16, Matinee $15
Double Feature Sunday, February 26 $20.00 (See both shows)
For information and tickets, go to www.stolenshakespeareguild.org or call Theatre Mania at 866-811-4111.