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March 16, 2013 Comments Off on Review: Seattle Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” Is De-Lovely, De-Lightful, And De-Lirious Views: 1756 #Theater and Stage, Arts & Entertainment, Stage

Review: Seattle Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” Is De-Lovely, De-Lightful, And De-Lirious

Kayla Lian as Rosaline and Paul Stuart as Berowne in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Photo by John Ulman.

Kayla Lian as Rosaline and Paul Stuart as Berowne in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Photo by John Ulman.

Reviews: “Love’s Labour’s Lost” by William Shakespeare. Produced by Seattle Shakespeare Company. Directed by Jon Kretzu. With Jason Sanford, Jonathan Crimeni, Jay Myers, Paul Stuart, Kevin Bordi, Mike Dooly, David Quicksall, Mickey Rowe, Donna Wood, Scott Ward Abernethy, Brandon J. Simmons, Samara Lerman, Allie Pratt, Rebecca Olson, Kayla Lian, Allan Armstrong and George Mount. Now through April 7, 2013 at the Center Theater at Seattle Center.

It’s not A-list Shakespeare.

“Love’s Labour’s Lost” isn’t in the same canon as “Hamlet” or “Othello” or “The Tempest” or any of the big, Shakespearean guns. It’s a frothy romance with terrific wordplay but the plot is thin and “LLL” isn’t as frequently produced as other comedic gems like “As You Like It” or “The Taming of the Shrew” (which is the next offering at Seattle Shakes). It can be difficult to lure theater goers to B-list Shakespeare…they prefer the big names and the big plots.

But, that can also be a big mistake on the part of finicky, name brand audiences because the lesser known works can allow theater companies to boldly go in directions they might not tread with the brand name plays…if you muck around too much with “Romeo & Juliet” or “Macbeth”, audiences familiar with the material will rebel. With less familiar plots and characters and settings, risk taking directors, designers and actors can create something…

De-Lightful.

Also, De-Licious,  De-Lovely, and every other superlative word put to music by Cole Porter.  Seattle Shakespeare Company’s  “Love’s Labour’s Lost” is a divinely effervescent bon-bon of a production with wickedly clever direction from Jon Kretzu that combines classic commedia dell’arte, British music hall traditions and the witty banter of a P. G. Wodehouse novel into a gloriously droll and very English night of theater. It’s one part “Brideshead Revisited” and a pinch of “Mapp and Lucia” with a dollop of Ivor Novello but it’s all reflected in a mirror warped by the Dada Movement and your favorite Monty Python sketch. Mr. Kretzu has wisely set this production into a rural British setting, circa 1930 or so, and populated it with a variety of British twits, gits, clowns and buffoons, all brilliantly performed by a cast that seems to be having a helluva good time on stage. It’s immaculately designed  and choreographed to reflect the era with musical numbers and comedy bits; bias cut evening gowns and boater hats; teddy bears and tea carts and enough cocktails to keep the Lusitania afloat. Seattle Shakes has managed to put every fantastic thing you love about BBC America into a blender and come up with the perfect concoction of All Things Grand and Great About British Culture. It’s…top hat, old chum and you’d be a prat to miss it.

“LLL” has such a convoluted romantic plot and I have such an aversion to synopsis writing I’m going to suggest you consult the Wikipedia entry if you need to know such things in great detail. But, for those of you too lazy to click a link, in a nutshell you have 4 suave British gentlemen pursuing 4 lovely visiting ladies; the ladies dandy-ish chaperone; one comedic Spaniard with thick accent and adorably pratfally manservant; a male and female pair of rustic clowns; a dolt of a police constable and two very twitty academic types who play endless word games as they guzzle their brandy spiced cups of tea…oh, and  a menacing but somewhat magical butler who lurks in the background. By the end of the play, there are five romantic engagements made and everyone will probably live happily ever after. Or, at the very least, have another cocktail or two while wearing smashing clothing.

The actors are all seemingly having a delightful time onstage and that joy of performing only enhances their performances. Paul Stewart is delightful as the principal gentleman, Berowne, the wry observer and eventual ringleader in the plot to attract the love of the visiting ladies; he nicely channels the charm and wit and slight eccentricity of the upper class Oxford undergrad. As his comrades in the pursuit of amour, both Jonathan Crimeni and Jay Myers delight with their slightly gawkier and more awkward examples of ardent youth in love. Mr. Crimeni particularly scores well in a scene involving a lengthy love missive he composed…on various parts of his body. It was a clever and well executed bit of comedy business on the part of both the actor and the director.

But, this production is full of brilliant comedic bits and asides that aren’t necessarily a part of Shakespeare’s original text. Mr. Kretzu isn’t afraid to let those bits take center stage for a moment or two, even if it overrides dialogue from the script, yet these moments don’t detract but enhance the material. It’s a big cast, but every character and actor gets one of those moments, (or ten), to really hog the limelight. Mike Dooly gets to revel in his role as the rude comic, Costard…it’s pure dirty music hall burlesque. David Quicksall’s deliriously deranged Spanish Don Adriano could just be the love child of John Cleese and Antonio Banderas; he’s suave and sexy yet completely ridiculous while doing so. He also has brilliant chemistry with Mickey Rowe as his manservant sidekick, Moth, who’s more than a bit smitten with his master. The homoerotic elements of this production are more than just a bit of wishful thinking…there’s cheeky and very physical interplay between many of the male characters in this play and none more obvious than between the Don and his Moth. It’s a delightful pair of comedic actors working brilliantly together.

And, the same must be said of Allen Armstrong as the drily pompous academic, Holofernes and George Mount as the twitching, stuttering vicar, Sir Nathaniel who both manage to eat most of the scenery in their scenes together. Neither character has much to do in the way of the slim plot; they’re purely here to amuse with their witty banter and both actors are having a splendid time with their various quips, twitches and posturings that they almost spin off into their own little sitcom… or at the very least, they need to be immediately cast as Bertie and Jeeves in a Wodehouse adaptation at Book-It. They are divinely funny.

In a smaller, but omnipresent role, Brandon J. Simmons shines as the mysteriously magical major domo in the household. (He also gets a very funny moment where he rather grandly retrieves some litter on the stage…) And, I thought Scott Ward Abernethy was miscast as Vronski in Book-It’s “Anna Karenina” last month, but here in a purely comedic, character role as the chamberlain for the visiting ladies, Boyet, he really gets a role he can sink his teeth into, wittily playing a dandy that enjoys court intrigue as much as he enjoys his cocktails and cigarettes. To anyone familiar with 1930’s cinema, Mr. Abernethy is a worthy successor to those suave but slightly menacing character actors like Adolphe Menjou. It’s a deliciously wicked performance.

On the design side, Andrea Bryn Bush’s set wittily calls upon some Dada-esque elements; there’s something to make you smile in every corner of her set. Rob Witmer’s sound design and music choices are atmospherically and appropriately 1930-ish. Deanne Middleton’s costumes look like she must have raided the costume shop at Pinewood…they are lushly and authentically period to the era…you’ll want to run home and put on your best linen and go punting on the Thames after seeing this show.

“Love’s Labour’s Lost” is a terrific, bubble of a show and the entire staff and team at Seattle Shakespeare is to be commended on a job well done, but I think a large share of the credit needs to go to director Jon Kretzu, a theater maker who got his start in Seattle but spent the last 20 years working in Portland. (And, also kudos to movement and dance choreographer Crystal Dawn Munkers…there is a lot of excellent ballroom dancing in this show, in addition to the complexly staged comedic scenes.) I think Mr. Kretzu needs to be persuaded to direct more shows in Seattle.

We need more bon-bons and experts in making them.

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