Shakespeare was funny, and not the kind of humor that you’d expect from a literary titan. His work often had a Seth Rogan sense of humor, reveling in the crude, crass, and sexual. You’d expect that 9th graders would love The Bard.
But then again maybe not. That sense of humor and playfulness is often missing when you’re learning about Shakespeare in school, and that affects a lot of performances. Performers think they’re being respectful to the text, but they’re missing the point of it.
Director Thomas G Waites’ version of Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Gene Frankel Theatre embraces that bawdy humor and playfulness. If this was your first experience with Love’s Labour’s Lost, you’d be confused to hear that it’s considered one of Shakespeare’s least popular plays. The cast’s performance–themed around Woodstock 1969–pumps new life into the show with innuendo, physical comedy, timely references, and song and dance numbers. They breathe life into a side of Shakespeare’s comedies that rarely translates onto the stage. All while wearing the vibrant colors of hippie culture in all of its glory.
Waites’ Love’s Labour’s Lost is hilarious. The cast, especially the criminally under-utilized Brandon Hynum and Josh Rubenstein as Don Armado and his page, lean into the show’s humor and innuendo with physical comedy, pulling chuckles and laughs out of the audience. Most of Shakespeare’s patrons were peasants paying a penny to stand in a crowded yard, cheering and laughing in front of the stage. His audience was not high-brow. Some of the jokes are off-color by nature of origin, but Waite’s cast plays along with them to maximum effect. The effect is that a bell-bottomed and flower-dressed cast manages to transport you back in time much farther than 1969. You can almost hear the laughter in the yard.
Waites has also managed to rework many of the reference-based humor. And it’s needed. Even the best political jokes get stale after their subjects have been dead a couple of hundred years. What is a Muscovite? Did you know without googling it? What would it add even if you did know? Far better for Boyet to proclaim of four disguised lovers: “They do, they do: and are apparell’d thus/ Like Hippies or Beatles, as I guess.” The costumes, complete with wigs, had the whole crowd laughing. Other lines reference our own current events, as the originals did in their time. I’ll leave those as treasures for you to find on your own.
The biggest diversion, though, is music. Where Love’s Labour’s Lost is conspicuous for its lack of music, Waites’ production added a musical interlude between each scene, with characters singing ‘60s music and dancing to multi-colored lights. It feels like the musical transitions from the Austin Powers movies, but longer. The songs are all classics and the cast performs them well. But at the same time, the music rarely added anything and often detracted from the scene.
When the king and his men approach disguised as Beatles, the princess and her ladies resolve not to dance with them no matter their seductions. But as soon as the “Beatles” enter, the cast bursts into a rendition of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends,’ and all begin to dance. When the play resumes, the refusal to dance feels empty and the scene has lost all stakes.
Overall, though, the show is a lot of fun. The cast is energetic, the performance is sharp, and the joy the actors take in the work shines through in every scene. If you love Shakespeare, or if you hate Shakespeare, or if you just happen to be free one night, check out this unique and fun adaptation.
The cast of LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST features Luis Guillen, Olivia Hardin, Brandon Hynum, Daniel Kornegay, Grace Langstaff, Joshua Lazarus, Robert Thorpe, Johnathan Mastrojohn, Melissa Molerio, Chandler Robyn, Will Rosenfelt, Josh Rubenstein, Annie Sizova, Steven Smith, and Julie Spina.
LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST is adapted and directed by Thomas G. Waites. Set design is by Tekla Monson; costume design is by Jason Vincent; lighting design is by Gilbert Pearto; and props design is by Thomas R. Gordon, also serving as Stage Manager. Roger Cacciotti produces.