“Love’s Labour’s Lost”
WHERE: Rarig Center’s Whiting Proscenium Theater, 30 21st Ave. S., Mpls.
WHEN: Feb. 26 – March 7
TICKETS: $5 - $17
Director Kenneth Noel Mitchell knows how to put things in perspective.
“Often in life, we are careless and frivolous, until something like the earthquake in Haiti happens,”
said Mitchell, drawing a parallel between current events and the sobering second act of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”
The Shakespearian work, which you might recognize as a precursor to the 2003 Christmas movie “Love Actually,” revolves around a king and his three merry men that have taken an oath to devote all their time to studies of higher knowledge. In this vein, they swear off women and food. Apparently, food is no issue, but the pleasures of the flesh prove insatiable when the beautiful French princess and her three ladies-in-waiting show up to settle an outstanding financial deal.
Mitchell adapted “Love’s Labour’s Lost” to be set in the roaring ’20s. To Mitchell, the time between WWI and WWII created an Eden-like lull in the litigious American society. Without the daily worries of food rationing and air raids, all characters could focus on their constant and continuous failings in love’s sorcery.
The styling of the show knows no bounds, much like its defined Charleston-dancing , martini-littered era. Sequins galore, flapper hats and slim-fitting suits were expertly chosen for the performance, but it was difficult to see the adaptation’s stretch beyond wardrobe choice. After all, some of the flappers spoke in British accents when they were theoretically from France. The set is presumably a garden terrace along the lines of Gatsby’s i dealized piazza, but instead, it felt like a forest from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “ with draped vines and glittering Christmas lights framing the stage.
The show’s obvious standouts were Jaquenetta — the slinking wench who seduces the court clown and the fantastical Spanish Don Adriano de Armado —and Boyeta, a fur-clad Puck-like woman who goes undercover Victor/Victoria -style for the French princess. The adaptation and delivery of every line is flawless and adds a comical structure to the sometimes frenetic performance.
The most effective portion of the show was the intensity of the execution and the adaptation of harmless Shakespearian verses into salacious innuendo. The show is often considered Shakespeare’s most high-brow production, littered with allusions to then-current political folly and foreplay. This foreplay took a more sexual turn at the Rarig.
“We try to make the jokes as clear and active as possible,” said Mitchell. “[The actors] are physically active when telling the archaic jokes.”
This means that the all of the Old English is coupled frequently with mimed groping and fingers implicated as penises snaking from trousers every few minutes or so.
The show entertains frequently with these gestures as well as oddly placed non-sequiturs such as contrived Russian dancing or play-within-a-play. Even though there’s something to be said for opening up Shakespeare with a glass of wine, this production reminds us that it never comes to life like on stage.
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