Sunday, October 20, 2013

Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare

L to R: Julianne Donelle, Michael Faulkner, Sammi Smith, Jeremy Lelliott, TJ Marchbank, Emelie O'Hara, Cameron Daxon, Emily McLeod. - Photo by Laura Crow 

By Joe Straw

“On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Ten lords a-leaping” – published England 1780

The standard tune is derived from a 1909 arrangement by English composer Frederic Austin who introduced “five gold rings” in that arrangement.

My question then is this: For whom do the lords leap?  Why, they leap for the king, of course.  - Narrator

The Coeurage Theatre Company presents Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare, directed by Ted Barton at the 2nd Stage Theatre in 6500 Santa Monica Blvd, in Hollywood through November 10, 2013. This is a thriving – pay-what-you-can - theatre company and anyone wanting to see a Shakespeare production should go.  Why?

This slightly truncated production of Love’s Labour’s Lost is a very fine production.  The comedy features wonderful performances by actors who have developed impressive characters, and make them irreplaceable to their own beings.  In short and lastly, Love’s Labour’s Lost is alluring, and luxuriously satisfying.

Our players, deep in love, go through a lot of labor to find love, which is thwarted and eventually lost.

As I walked into the theatre lobby, that holds a peanut of a man and a wisp of a woman into the darkened theatre space, I noticed there weren’t much of a set, three black walls and the fourth being the audience.  “Oh. We’re going to have that kind of production.” I thought to myself, hmmm actors physically and mentally filling the time and space.  I was ready.  

Before the play starts the music over the speakers lightly blasts out a vast array of 20’s jazzy blues numbers and features the song I Want to be Loved by You (Boop Boop a Doop) made famous by Helen Kane in 1928.


From the darkened night of the castle steps, step four men in unity, possessed in a ritual of sorts, Ferdinand (Jeremy Lelliott) King of Navarre, Berowne (Michael Faulkner), Longaville (TJ Marchbank), and Dumain (John Klopping) holding and bowing to the wisdom of the iPhones and iPad.

All right.

It is on this night these men will set their names and inscribe a solemn oath to the King.

King:  …You three, Berowne, Dumain, and Longaville,
                Have sworn for three years’ term to live with me
                My fellow-scholars and to keep those statutes
                That are recorded in this schedule here: (the ipad)
                Your oaths are pass’d; and now subscribe your names;

Dumain and Longaville are up to the task but Berowne has another thought.   

Berowne: …O, these are barren tasks, too hard to keep,
                 Not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep!

In fact Berowne, overwrought by hormones and common sense, takes offense to some of the penalties.  For example, if a woman comes within a mile of their court, she loses her tongue?

Berowne:  Who devised this penalty?

Longaville:  Marry, that did I.

Berowne:  Sweet lord, and why?

Longaville:  To fright them hence with that dread penalty.

One gets the impressions that Longaville is none too bright.

Nevertheless Berowne gives in only by “mere necessity” to stand in solidarity with his compatriots.

No sooner have they made the vow of chastity, Dull (Brian Abraham) arrives bringing a luxurious but grave message from Don Adriano De Armando (Jonas Barranca), a fantastical Spaniard, concerning the excessive amorous adventures of one of Ferdinand’s subjects, Costard (Chris O’Brien).  

Dull, seeking favor with the King, has the swain Costard.  And Costard appears to be in a lot of trouble because of his sexual exploits with Jaquenetta (Elitia Daniels).  The celibate men, embraced by their oath, are curious though and take a keen interest in Costards’ erotic adventures, but as they are bound by their pledge, they must have this man punished.

The King sentences Costard to fast with bran and water for a week and orders Berowne to deliver Costard to Armando.

A short while later Armando flittingly confides to Moth (Ian Littleworth) that he is in love with none-too-bright Jacquenetta.  And when Dull brings in both Costard and Jacquenetta to see the blowzy Armando, Armando tells Jacquenetta that he loves her and will visit her.

Armando:  I will tell thee wonders.

Jacquenetta:  With that face?

Undeterred by Jacquenetta’s mental capacities, Armando turns his attention to Costard.  

Armando: Villain, thou shalt fast for thy offences ere thou be pardoned.

Costard:  Well, sir, I hope, when I do it, I shall do it on a full stomach.

Moth:  Come, You transgressing slave; away!

Armando:  Take away this villain; shut him up.

Costard:  Let me not be pent up, sir; I will fast being loose.

Moth:  No, sir; that were fast and loose; thou shalt to prison.

Shortly thereafter Boyet (Anthony Mark Barrow), a lord attending to the needs of the Princess of France (Sammi Smith), tells the Princess the unencumbered King Ferdinand would make a delightful paring and the Aquitaine would make an equally delightful dowry for a queen.  Boyet majestically enters the King’s court to announce their arrival.  

The Princess, waiting outside, is accompanied by three unencumbered ladies Rosaline (Julianne Donelle), Maria (Emelie O’ Hara), and Katharine (Madeline Harris) all of whom have set their eyes on the lords attending the King when Boyet comes back with some bad news.

Boyet: Marry, thus much I have learnt:
            He rather means to lodge you in the field,
            Like one that comes here to besiege his court,
            Than to seek dispensation for his oath,
            To let you enter his unpeopled house.

The Princess, not accustomed to lodgings in a tent, is put off by the Kings behavior.  And as the men come out to greet their visitors there is an immediate contest of will between all those who labor to love.   

Ferdinand, King of Navarre:
             Madam, your father here doth intimate
             The payment of a hundred thousand crowns;
              Being but one half of the entire sum
              Disbursed by my father in his wars.
              But say that he or we, as neither have,
              Received that sum, yet there remains unpaid
              A hundred thousand more;

It seems the King and Princess have a disagreement about money and the Aquitaine and before things get too heated the King excuses himself.

Boyet has more to say about their relationship.

Boyet:  If my observation, which very seldom lies,
             By the heart’s still rhetoric disclosed with eyes,
             Deceive me not now, Navarre is infected.

Princess: With what?

Boyet:  With that which we lovers entitle affected.

Having a slight taste of Rosaline’s beauty Berowne must neglect his oath and send a note to her. Berowne enlists the swain Costard to deliver the note in secret. If Berowne could just get the imbecile to understand.

Berowne:  Stay, slave, I must employ thee:
                 As thou wilt win my favor, good my knave,
                Do one thing for me that I shall entreat.

Costard:  When will you have it done, sir?

Berowne:  This afternoon.

Costard:  Well, I will do it, sir:  fare you well.

Berowne:  Thou knowest not what it is.

Costard:  I shall know, sir, when I have done it.

Berowne:  Why, villain, thou must know first.

The first rule of order is to never, ever, give an important note to a rogue.  It always winds up into the hands of the unintended.

Meanwhile, away from her tent, the Princess is in the forest hunting deer with her aide Marcade (Brian Abraham).

Princess: …Then forester, my friend, where is the bush
                That we must stand and play the murderer in?

Marcade:  Hereby, upon the edge of yonder coppice;
                  A stand where you may make the fairest shoot.

Princess: I thank my beauty, I am fair that shoot,
                And thereupon thou speak’st the fairest shoot.

Marcade:  Pardon me, madam, for I meant not so.

L to R: William Reinbold, Patrick Wenk-Wolff, Brian Abraham. Photo by Laura Crow

Meanwhile, nestled in the countryside, over looking the sport, Dull (Brian Abraham), Holofernes (Patrick Wenk-Wolff) and Sir Nathaniel (William Reinbold) have a slight disagreement in the killing of a 2-year-old buck (a pricket) or a young doe in a delightful exchange.

Holofernes:  Sir Nathaniel, haud credo. (I do not believe it.)

Dull: ‘Twas not a haud credo; ‘twas a pricket.

Holofernes:     Most barbarous intimation!  Yet a kind
Of insinuation, as it were, in via, in way, of explication;
Facere, as it were, replication, or rather,
Ostentare, to show, as it were, his inclination,
after his undressed, unpolished, uneducated,
unpruned, untrained, or rather, unlettered, or
ratherest, unconfirmed fashion, to insert again
my haud credo for a deer.

Dull:    I said the deer was not a haud credo;
‘twas a pricket.

Holofernes:     Twice-sod simplicity, bis coctus!
O thou monster Ignorance, how deformed dost
thou look!

Sir Nathaniel:            Sir, he hath never fed of the dainties
                        That are bred in a book;

There is a lot to enjoy in this production of Love’s Labour’s Lost.  The acting is superior and easy to understand.  Ted Barton’s direction is wonderfully laid out. And there are good feelings when you walk out of the theatre.  What more can you ask for?

Still, I have a few notes.

While liking the play overall, the look and feel is a little disconcerting, with the 20’s jazz, the ipads, the modern day costumes for some, and colorful rags for others. All in all a likelihood of budgetary concerns. But this can be forgiven in Ted Barton’s masterful directorial display. At times though the men and women were laid out in a wing formation, on the small stage, and really not getting a sense of their intention over the course of this layout. Also, the plague, a reason the men originally take the oath, was not a factor in this production, although vague references are still made.  The modern day reason should be more concrete, the women should be treated as though they have the plague, to simply comply with the oath taken.  Also the relationships between the lords and ladies and the King and princess respectively should be stronger.  As it appears now they all carry equal weight.

Brian Abraham played Dull and Marcade.  His work is understated but marvelously played. Abraham is an exceptional actor.

Anthony Mark Barrow plays the omnipotent Boyet.  He is always in control and never loses his cool.  This is just what you would expect from a character in that position. But, is there something missing? Every character has an objective.  What is his objective and what is the conflict that keeps him from reaching his objective? What does he gain to marry off the princess, today? And what does he lose?  Because the Princess’ father is dying is there a time element involved?  Questions that need further exploration still, Barrow has a strong voice and a marvelous way with the language and gets exceptional marks in this production.

Jonas Barraca is wonderful as Don Armado as the flamboyant fantastical Spaniard. His character leaps out at you from the stage, completely unexpected.  This was marvelous work and a wonderful character.

Elitia Daniels as Jaquenetta has some wonderful scenes.  They were brief but important nevertheless. She is the baroque damsel, the wench, and the former virgin before she is proclaimed the maid. There is a grand simplicity to Daniels’ work and there is more to be had in her characters’ unintelligence to complete the character.   

Julianne Donelle is Rosaline a character with a biting wit. She is attracted to her counterpart but is put off by his oath, something that she can’t understand.  Still, there is more to woo, moments to conquer.

Madeline Harris plays Katherine and has a nice presence and a very good look. And while unique as an actor, as a physical individual lady of the Princess’ court, Harris needs to find the physical or mental action that makes the character entirely unique rather than a part of a group. Adding this to her performance will only help. 

Michael Faulkner has a lot of good moments as Berowne.  Oddly enough Berowne is the lead in this show, rather than the King, which makes the role a little tricky. Berowne must be subservient to the King, must handle the King with kit gloves all for the purpose of getting what he wants. He must not overpower the King but rather convince him that what he needs is in the best interest of all, especially Berowne. Faulkner gives us a lot of grand physical moments.

John Klopping plays Dumaine one of the Lords attending on the King.  Klopping has a nice smile and an easy presence but one really doesn’t get how he is different from the others.  The physical and emotional attributes thing that makes the character uniquely different from the other. He is a lord who will leap to get the greatest favor of the king.

Jeremy Lelliott plays Ferdinand, King of Navarre and does a marvelous job but he is never really seen as the governing head.  The relationship, with his lords, is not master/slave, manager/worker, etc., so we really never see the power that is behind the man. Not too late in the early stages to solidify those relationships. While he may regard his lords as “fellow-scholars” there is still a hierarchy that needs strengthening.

Ian Littleworth plays Moth, a page to Armando, and provides us with a few laughs and certainly he delights his master. But to delight his master Moth must be on his most witty game. There is a most curious game between Moth and his master that is not fully realized.

TJ Marchbank plays Longaville another one of the lord that did not leap to the kings’ demands. There is a struggle for power that may have been missed in this interpretation. Still, Marchbank has a good look and did a fine job.

Chris O’Brien is Costard dressed in what appears to be colorful rags.  So we get the idea that he is a slave, a nave, or someone from the bottom of the class rung.  Still he is smart and is able to use his wits to lessen the penalties others want to impose upon him with just his humor.  If only he could stay out of trouble. O’Brien does a fine job.

Emelie O’Hara is Maria and does some really fine work. O’Hara is soft-spoken and spoken softly carries a lot of weight to the character’s meaning.  Still a strengthening of the voice would help in her delivery.  Certainly O’Hara has a very good look and is probably capable of giving the character an added dimension as the lady attending the Princess.  

William Reinbold is Sir Nathaniel provides us with some very strong character work in his portrayal.  Reinbold is a very tall actor who bends his body into a meek and mild minister/priest.  He adds a very cheeky smile that stretches from ear to ear.  And he throws a straw hat over his head to compliment the look.  Sir Nathaniel is a student who is eager to lean from his master.  His relationship with his counterpart is extraordinary all for the benefit of knowing more about the language and the world. This is an exceptional performance.

Sammi Smith is the Princess of France and has a commanding presence on stage.  One believes there is more to be had in her love relationship with the King and with the ladies who are at her side. Still, Smith has a very nice voice and a fanciful way as she moves about the stage

Patrick Wenk-Wolff is outstanding as Holofernes a character who profoundly thinks before he speaks.  His words come out in a grand way as though he is discovering something exciting.  Wenk-Wolff’s character appears to be thinking and oddly enough looking like a wise old owl.  It is a marvelous characterization and a performance that should not be missed.  

The performer who are alternates or understudies that did not perform this night are as follows:

Holofernes – Joe Calarco
Ferdinand/Dumaine – Cameron Daxon
Boyet – Doug Harvey
Katherine – Emily McLeod
Maria – Candida Rodriguez
Rosaline – Taylor Jackson Ross
Princess of France – Angela Sauer
Sir Nathaniel – Spike Steingasser
Longaville – Andy Stokan
Moth/Costard – David Umansky
Dull – Kyle Wills
Jaquenetta – Lydia Woods

Crewmembers are as follows:

Stage Manager – Emily Goodall
Assistant Director – Crystal Clark
Sound Design – Joe Calarco
Costume Design – Mary Reilly
Costume Assistant – Marcy Hiratzka
Production Design – Tito Fleetwood Ladd
Music Direction  - Gregory Nabours
Press Representative – Ken Werther Publicity
Graphic Design – Ryan Wagner
Fight Choreography – TJ Marchbank
Photos – Laura Crow

Run!  Run!  And take someone who tries really hard to find love but is not successful.


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