By Connie Shakalis | H-T Theater Reviewer
You’re as sick as your secrets, they say. And although IU Summer Theatre’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” by William Shakespeare, is anything but sick, it offers a trove of juicy deceits, broken promises and hush-hush schemes. One of Shakespeare’s earlier works, it tests combining romantic comedy (although there are no marriages at the end) and farce.
When a king decides to turn his realm into a prestigious academy for learning only, he forbids the distraction women would pose by signing — and persuading his three lords to sign — an oath of abstinence. For three studious years, there are to be no damsels, rich food or merriment.
This show belongs to three characters, Grant Goodman’s Berowne, Ashley Dillard’s the Princess of France and Henry Woronicz’s Don Armado, with some fine performances by other cast members as well.
A fascinating aspect of attending theatre-in-the-round productions — where the audience surrounds the stage — is the audience’s ability to observe each other. From what I witnessed, this show is a grabber.
All is well until the comely Princess of France (Dillard) appears for her scheduled — but until now forgotten — visit and brings along three young lovelies. A Shakespearean coincidence: we now have four men and four women. Oaths instantly dissolve, and love floods the stage. Cryptic letters are sent and, naturally, mixed up, and love poems are uttered and eavesdropped upon.
Don Armado (Woronicz) is a Spanish knight and a star of the comic subplot. In Shakespeare’s time, theater-goers would have instantly grasped the allusion to the Spanish Armada’s failure to beat England in 1588. Armado, deliciously pontifical and verbose, has fallen for (and impregnated) a lowly wench, Jacquenetta. And fall he does, as he drops to the stage floor, rolling, gasping and kissing the grass in his romantic trance. He is funny!
Goodman’s Lord Berowne is the most realistic human in the play and is cynical, questioning and direct. After signing the king’s oath of three-year self-denial, he says, “Not to see ladies? Then, I swore in jest.” Later, expressing his doubts about academia’s benefits surpassing those of real life, he tells it as he sees it: “To see a king transformed into a gnat!”
Goodman has everything it takes to do Shakespeare: vocal variety, comic timing, physical agility and pathos.
As the French princess, Dillard is stunningly pretty and lithe. Her acting is superb, and she has us laughing, indeed, but also near tears at the suddenly sad and serious finale.
Her companion, Lady Rosaline, played by Julia Klinestiver, contributes to the play’s wit and fun-poking.
Tara Chiusano is charming as Armado’s page, Moth; Chiusano and Woronicz have a sparkling chemistry.
Boyet, a French lord who looks after the princess, is played with humor and verve by Jenny McKnight. Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom calls Boyet the “play’s prophet,” since he manages many of the plot’s transitions.
In all, the cast handled the word-laden and pun-riddled script with triumph. The four lords posing as dancing Muscovites nearly brought down the house, and the four ladies were resplendent in their golds, pinks, purples and greens, dressed beautifully by costume supervisor Robbie Stanton and crew.
Director Jonathan Michaelsen is also the department chairman. He has set the play in 1914, which seemed to somehow make the action more accessible to this modern audience. His pacing of the actors was marvelous.
Playwright and actor William Mountfort may have said “Be still, my beating heart,” but I say, “Be still, my laughing mouth and applauding hands.” I almost had to sit on them.
If You Go
WHO: IU Summer Theatre
WHAT: “Love’s Labour’s Lost” by William Shakespeare
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today, Thursday, Saturday and July 19 and 21; 2 p.m. Sunday and July 22.
WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington
TICKETS: $10-$20 for each show. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu