Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.
Pictured: (l-r) Taylor Blim, Laura Rook, Jennie Greenberry and Jennifer Latimore. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Review: LOVE LABOR’S LOST at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
By Bec Willet
Most of us know or have been that person who’s really into Shakespeare. The enthusiast who often through a bombardment of Elizabethan vocabulary and extreme enthusiasm for iambic pentameter tries to convert the listener to their love of the bard. This method is rarely successful. Despite this, the listener rarely bails. It may be because they are polite, but more often than not, I believe it’s because of the pure joy of the enthusiast that we all long to access. We remain because we believe that we too can one day become that twinkly-eyed bard lover. Well, to enthusiasts and listeners alike I have an important decree: The time is now. PREPARE TO TWINKLE. LOVE LABOR’S LOST is playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater and it is everything theater and Shakespeare should be.
One of Shakespeare’s earlier works, LOVE LABOR’S LOST was not produced regularly until the 20th Century. Full of lightness and wit, on the surface it is a story of lovers, an unreliable messenger service and the hubris of youth. At its heart – as expressed by director Marti Maraden – it is a play that “asks us to think about what is real learning and real knowledge.” Certainly this is a timely reflection for the current political climate.
The entire cast was excellent; each actor finding both the gravity and wit of their role. Nate Burger as Berowne delivered long speeches with the ease of a living room conversation, transforming the space into a party to which we were all invited. Jennie Greenberry’s intelligence and humor made this Princess of France not just fierce but relatable. James Newcomb was the perfect gossip as Boyet, mincing across the stage with confidence of a king and the mischief of a boy. Alex Goodrich imbued his Costard with all the naiveté and buffoonery that is only the result of a skillful actor. Allen Gilmore’s Don Adriano de Armado – an Il Capitano character that could have become an offensive stereotype – was instead thoughtfully realized.
As reflected in these performances, Maraden’s direction is evidence of her extensive experience and deep understanding of Shakespearean Theater. Her use of space and blocking is specific and fluid, subtle and always meaningful. I was especially struck by the moment at the end where the women leave the stage, saying goodbye to the men without ever touching. Its simplicity is replete with longing yet resolve; a moment of learning where many of these characters make adult choices for the first time in their lives.
Likewise, the design was applied with a delicate, deft hand. The choice to set the production in the 18th Century’s age of enlightenment not only supported the content of play, but also led to much visual beauty. Kevin Depinet’s scenic design gestured at the era and park setting but – just as in the globe itself – avoided the overwhelming fussiness of a realistic set. Especially beautiful was the Jean Honoré Fragonard-inspired backdrop, which I can only imagine must have (appropriately) been a labor of love. Christina Poddubik’s costumes were a tapestry of lush but subtle textures, evoking class and wealth without garish. Similarly, the sound and lighting were textured, subtly but confidently leading us through the story’s emotional journey.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of LOVE LABOR’S LOST is relevant, excellent, and beautiful. I implore you to see it. It is time to treat yourself to your own twinkle.