Directors and theatre companies have been adapting and tweaking the works of William Shakespeare for centuries. Alterations run the gamut from changing the setting and characters genders to modernizing the language. Sometimes the core story has morphed, for example, Romeo & Juliet begat West Side Story. Imagine if you could take a story concept and write it in the style of Shakespeare. Elizabethan English, in verse form with iambic pentameter rhyming schemes and his typical comedy conventions; the buffoon, the snooty royal, women dressed as men and missed identities. Theatre, just as the Bard would have written it.
Shakespeare’s Loves Labors Lost, first published in 1598, ends with the death of the King of France, leaving the other characters future in limbo. It has long been surmised that a sequel had been written by the Bard, but alas it has never been found. Scott Kaisers’ Love’s Labor’s Won could be that sequel, set near the end of World War I, just as the armistice is about to be signed. Thematically, it asks the question “Will love survive the brutal war?”
Many of the characters from Lost make the transition to Won. For a memory refresh, they are Ferdinand (Christopher J. Essex), the King of Navarre, the country in the center of the conflict and about to be divided. He has taken a three-year oath of celibacy and sobriety, encouraging his friends to do the same. Princess Isabelle of France (Kennedy McMann) arrives on the scene and causes that oath to fly out the window. She is a no-nonsense talented politician. She has lost her father in the war and also her purpose. Her position keeps her silenced, but she is just waiting to leap in and save the day.
Dumaine (Chase Del Rey) who is not the cleverest of the bunch. Decorum is not his thing but affection towards his crush Kathrine is, along with his other desire- for wealth. Kathrine (Myha’la Herrold) is Isabelle’s closest friend. She is beautiful and graceful, yet possesses and inner strength. She views Dumaine as a money hunger hypocrite but she loves him anyway.
Berowne (Christian Strange) is the ambitious class clown of the group all the while searching for a sense of stability in a war-torn world. His love Rosaline (Aubyn Heglie) who can verbally joust with the best of men. A woman of action, she calls Berowne a fool when he professes his love for her.
Longaville (Kyle Decker) has been locked up in the Embassy’s dungeon for being a spy. Of all the characters, he has the greatest sense of and respect for humanity. He has also signed up for the oath but has found a loophole, by proclaiming his love, Maria (Eleanor Pearson) is a goddess. Maria is calm and collected, but ultimately brokers the deal to finalize the armistice and restore all their relationships.
Costard (Jordan Plutzer) is the foot soldier, wounded in battle and worse for wear. With a bad eye and a bad leg on his left side, he always seems to be searching for the right direction. He adds the comic relief to what would otherwise be very sad times. Rayquila Durham plays the jazzy Jacquenetta, his love interest.
The playwright, Scott Kaiser, has written several books on Shakespeare and another play Shakespeare’s Other Women: A New Anthology of Monologues. He clearly knows and understands the Bards writing style and conventions. He has created a very watchable and enjoyable play. Some of the rhymes are a bit over the top, but hey why not. Perhaps the double entendre is a bit overdone at times. The characters have depth and complexity with the ultimate outcome of the story in doubt until the very end.
CMU has a well-deserved reputation for recruiting top talent. That talent with a master director really shines in this production delivering rich well-crafted performances. The university posts no cast bios, so it’s a guess as to their path to CMU, past experience or whether they are undergraduates or grad students. Regardless you can see bright futures for them as actors. Two standouts are Jordan Plutzer’ Costard for his comedic skills and timing along with Rayquila Durham’s as Jaquenetta for her exquisite singing voice.
The Scenic Design by Fiona Rhodes looks as if a grand marble staircase was lifted from one of Pittsburgh’s old mansions, or perhaps the Carnegie Museum. The single set design conveys the essence of a country on hold in wartime. The intersecting point of the character’s lives. Priceless works of art, initially secured and sequestered have come unwrapped as the war raged on, just as relationships have come undone over time. Kudo’s to the painting artists and crew.
Natalie Burton’s costumes convey the almost post great war era. Men in their uniforms, although not always military, and women with that soft flowing radiance that leads into the era of the flapper. In the opening scene, Costard’s uniform tells you everything about the time and place of the play, before the first word is spoken.
Anthony Stultz’s score and Sound Design for Jaquenetta’s songs at the close of Act II nicely and understatedly foreshadow the world of post-war France.
Leaving the theatre and thinking about were these young actors and designer’s careers would take them, we overheard two young women walking behind in animated conversation. “The men were stupid and stubborn, but the women, they ended the war”. A fitting sentiment for these times.
Carnegie Mellon University Drama’s production of Love’s Labor’s Won at the Phillip Chosky Theater, Purnell Center for the Arts has a performance on Saturday, November the 18th at 8 pm. Performances resume after Thanksgiving, November 28th through December 3rd. For tickets visit http://drama.cmu.edu/box-office/loves-labors-won/
Thank you to CMU Drama for the complimentary tickets.