By William Shakespeare
Presented by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company
Directed by Steven Maler
July 20 – August 7, 2016
Commonwealth Shakespeare Company on Facebook
Review by Danielle Rosvally
(Boston, MA) Every year, I find a way to haul myself out to the Common to see Boston’s free Shakespeare under the stars. Every year, I find something to like about the performance (even if some years it’s just the signature Ben & Jerry’s sundae which, by the way, is once again delicious). This year, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t have to dig deep to find something to like. CSC’s 2016 production of Love’s Labour’s Lost is not one to be missing; it’s easily the best production I’ve seen CSC put up since my move to Boston in 2011.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is not an easy play to perform. It’s packed with weird quirks; thick rhetoric, characters that come and go, bizarre situations that have very little logic to them (I mean, even less than usual in a Shakespeare play), bits and bobs that most modern audiences have a very difficult time connecting to. As a result, it’s an incredible challenge to put on a good production of Love’s Labour’s much less a great production. For that, it has some of the most beautiful language in Shakespeare’s canon (and my favorite speech!). It’s a misunderstood piece; rarely performed and problematic.
Steven Maler and his cast took this diamond in the rough and sparkled it silly. Hitting the show hard with energy and pizzazz, these performers lay it all on the table. In Maler’s colorful world (which looks a lot like Oz), the characters are almost cartoonish in their scope. This conceit allows the play’s many rhyming couplets to land right at home amidst the zany rompings of Maler’s Navarre.
The cast of characters who populate this world simply can’t be beat. Remo Airaldi plays a Don Armado that actually works; he makes this character’s seemingly senseless antics both sensible and charming while simultaneously entertaining. Ray O’Hare’s Moth is the perfect foil for Airaldi; exuding common sense and wit at every turn. Jason Bowen breathes vivacious life into Berowne and delivers poetry that packs a punch. Justin Blanchard manages to walk the fine line between gravitas and buffoonery as the King of Navarre. Obehi Janice is a sharp-tongued, sassy, saucy Rosaline. Larry Coen embodies all the best qualities of Nathan Lane in his role of Costard. Fred Sullivan Jr. and Mark W. Soucy manage to make the oft-neglected and nearly impassable parts of Holofernes and Sir Nathanial both clear and enjoyable. Brandon Whitehead plays a simply fabulous Boyet at home in the zany world of the play. Nash Hightower and Dalton David perform glowing acrobatics in the roles of Dumain and Longaville. Arisael Rivera is definitely not dull as Dull.
For this, I don’t think that Jennifer Ellis really has the acting chops to measure up to her counterparts in the role of the Princess of France. She manages to doggy paddle her way through the first comedic two thirds of the show, but when asked to bring home the gravitas with the play’s twisted ending she fails to deliver. She lacks any sense of her status, and often finds herself lost in the language; tittering like a girl when she should be ruling like a queen. Luckily, Janice’s Rosalind can bail her out of most situations; it’s pretty clear where the real power onstage lies (and, perhaps, even in the imaginary politics of the French court).
So go. Find a friend, grab a blanket, make a picnic, and get out there! If you really needed another reason to see free Shakespeare on the common, the sundae that Ben & Jerry are waiting to make for you will fulfill all of your chocoholic desires. Trust me. I’m a professional.