Theatre Review by Angela Allyn
4 Stars out of 4
Given that we are in a time and place where the most complicated risky foreign policy is conducted in 140 characters of third grade level language, the very idea that we would gather in the dark to savor big words, complicated iambic pentameter and the hilarious use of the work REMUNERATION as an escapist pleasure is ironic. But there you have it. Get away from your screens, and head to Chicago Shakes for the marvelous, delicious and wonderfilled Loves Labor’s Lost now on the boards at the Courtyard theatre at Navy Pier.
This is a less performed comedy by the Bard. The script completely fell out of the repertoire in 1605 and didn’t reappear and get off the shelf again until 1839—Chicago Shakespeare has only done it once before, and when Kenneth Branaugh and Miramax teamed up for a cinematic rendering he chopped it to a one and a half hour “musical” amputating the text, still, I am not sure why it’s not a mainstay. It has the usual mix ups, and a message: that words matter. An important message to revisit in our social media saturated era.
The plot revolves around the King of Navarre (an earnest John Tufts)who talks his buddies into sequestering themselves for three years of studiousness and swearing off sleep, more than one meal a day and the mere sight of a woman. His pal Berowne (the rakish Nate Berger) is skeptical, but Longaville (the thoughtful Madison Niederhauser) and Dumaine (the serious Julian Hester) sign on. They even punish the clown Costard (comic genius Alex Goodrich) for wooing the dairy maid Jaquenetta (a saucy Maggie Portman) Except ooops, the Princess of France (the exquisite and regal Jennie Greenberry) and her three ladies are expected to arrive, and of course the men fall immediately in love., while keeping the ladies a bit out of the way in a luxury tent out back. Naturally, the boys write the girls love letters that get all mixed up courtesy of Costard and the previously mentioned remuneration, and comedy ensues. All shifts when the Princess gets word her father has died. As such life changing events do,the world in an instant changes, and the ladies tell the would be suitors that if they are indeed to be taken seriously, they will spend the year at certain weighty tasks and return with commitments to marriage. And then Armando, (the Pagliacci like clown Allen Gilmore accompanied by new discovery: a young Aaron Lamm as his page Moth) presents the tale of the Owl and the Cuckoo, a heart rending parable that makes us see, that, like the best comedy on our screens each night, we laugh so we do not cry. This tight ensemble cast creates a world and a message even as we are entertained and transformed.
Director Marti Maraden has kept this gorgeous production faithful to the original romantic intent: when you arrive in the theatre it looks like a Fragonard painting has escaped across the river from the Art Institute and set its sun dappled self up at Navy Pier to contrast with Chicago’s never ending winter grayness.Set deigner Kevin Depinet and lighting designer Greg Hofman have gifted all us Seasonal Affect folk a reprieve. The eighteenth century costumes by Christina Poddubiuk meet the bar set by our current fascination with period costume dramas from Downton Abbey to The Crown. A special shout out to wig designer Richard Jarvie who resists the temptation to overdue the French wig and still gives a nod to all the things that hair can say about a character.
Love’s Labor’s Lost is only playing now through March 26 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. They have special discount tickets for young patrons. For tickets and information go to www.ChicagoShakes.com or call 312-596-5600 or go to http://www.theatreinchicago.com/loves-labor-lost/9002/