Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Love's Labor Lost Review - A Comedy that Raises Questions

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier provides the perfect setting for taking an audience back in time for one of Shakespeare's classics. However, Love's Labor Lost isn't really one of the true classics. It's a little bit of a one-off, and was rarely performed between the 17th and 19th centuries, perhaps due to its complex wordplay, chastising of a fad long gone, and its pro-feminist themes, which now strike a chord, but might not have done much for the male dominated pre-modern era.

 

The King and his lords seal their pledge

A giant, early autumn tree draws the audience into the courtyard of a gracious royal estate in early autumn. The king and three of his young lords struggle with a pact they have already made, but must now commit to writing. They have agreed to study, cloistered at the estate, for three years, rejecting the simple pleasures of life including excessive food and drink, and the company of women. At the last minute, the king’s most reluctant lord, and a realist, Berowne, makes a flowery argument against the pact, but eventually signs as his honor requires. Enter a princess and her three beautiful ladies. Perhaps Berowne was correct. Perhaps one’s honor and the merits of study shouldn’t be frivolously cast aside.

 

 

Love’s Labor Lost is a comedy that raises several questions about the true nature of young people, the merits of study and self-denial, plain English, and honest love.

 

 

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s performance was a straightforward rendition of the play, and answered its questions, within the lovely, peaceful, and simple setting. The men were attractive and interested, yet afraid to sincerely commit one way or the other, and the women, only a little put out at being banished to a tent in a field, were happy to teach them a lesson. A change of direction at the end, teaches everyone a lesson about truth and forgiveness.

 

 

 Jeannie Greenberry as the Princess of France seemed somewhat subdued in her role, but Laura Rook's Rosaline gave a wonderfully playful, wicked eye while making plans to give Berowne consequences for his deception.

 

 

I was grateful the little silly comedy within the play, typical of a Shakespearian comedy, was short. The ending song was well done by the entire cast, but particularly by Aaron Lamm as young Moth, who otherwise served as foil to the ridiculous braggart, Don Adriano de Armado, serving as an amplification of the four main male characters long-winded arguments in favor of avoiding their pledge.

 

  

Dull, the everyman having no idea what all the verbal flourishes were about, was fittingly dull in his inability to articulate the problem. I couldn't figure out why Holofernes and Nathaniel were there, but Holofernes, long-winded and self-serving in his pseudo-impressive wordplay, reminded me of some litigation attorneys that I know. Nathaniel was his adoring audience. Maybe the pair provided a view to what might have been had the women responded as the men expected.

 

I was fortunate enough to sit in the 4th row center on the aisle, and was able to enjoy the costumes up close. The men’s costumes were standard for just about any pre-twentieth century time period, perhaps a little ill-fitting, but the pastel fabrics of the women’s gowns, with subdued stripes and flowers were elegant, and seemed authentic to the eighteenth century setting.

 

Leaving a few still relevant ideas to ponder, but disbursing them through long, sometimes grandiloquent speeches, mostly to illustrate how silly they are, Love’s Labor Lost was a mostly pleasant evening of iambic pentameter and beautiful gowns in a calming setting, well done by the company, but not one of Shakespeare's best.

Go to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater's website for information on future productions and more.

Photos by Liz Lauren

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