The Folger Shakespeare Library is making a veritable habit out of turning “lesser” works by the playwright whose name it bears into great evenings of theatre. Last year’s King John was so good it made me wonder why I’d never seen the show staged before, and the production of Love’s Labor’s Lost that’s going on now until June 9 is as gratifying a comedy as the former was a drama.
As directed by Vivienne Benesch, this lovely, libidinous, and larksome Love’s Labor’s Lost loses just a little steam in second act, but it packs so much fun in its two-and-a-half-hour runtime that theatregoers might not even notice.
In the kingdom of Navarre, the king (Joshua David Robinson) and his three closest friends (Zachary Fine, Matt Dallal, and Jack Schmitt) take up a pledge of scholarly devotion that is, well, ridiculous. For three years (!), they will live in ascetic seclusion, sleeping only three hours a night, eating only one meal a day, and, most importantly, avoiding the intimacy of women. Anyone still wondering why Navarre doesn’t have a king anymore quickly stops wondering.
But oh no! The monk-like vow is put to the test in about 15 freakin’ minutes by a visiting delegation: the princess of France (Amelia Pedlow) and her own entourage of three best female advisers (Kelsey Rainwater, Yesenia Iglesias, and Chani Wereley). For four-outta-four would-be couples, love at first sight trumps honor-bound oaths.
All eight of these performers (particularly the gregarious Fine) do terrific work within this ridiculous premise — and they look all divine in Tracy Christensen’s natty early 1930’s costumes, too. But the great acting work isn’t confined to would-be lovers. Eric Hissom is hilarious as the flamboyant Don Armado, Megan Graves nails every witty riposte as Mote, and Tonya Beckman gets belly-laughs with just a wink as the buxom Jacquenetta.
And they all seem to enjoy climbing up and around Lee Savage’s sterling scenery — by far the most set I’ve ever seen at the Folger. And the secret ace in the hole of this production is the music and sound design by Lindsay Jones. This “very early” Shakespeare comedy may have come at just the right time. Bravissimi!
You always know it was funny when your cheek muscles are sore. No one’s labors go to waste here.