Winter Shakespeare Presents:
Love’s Labor’s Lost: An Approachable, Silly Night
Most of us have read or seen Shakespeare’s big tragedies and comedies, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest and so on. I was unfamiliar with Love’s Labor’s Lost, one of his early comedies, before watching the Nashville Shakespeare Festival and Belmont University’s Department of Theatre and Dance perform it opening night, February 16th. This play was slightly abridged, the director Denise Hicks credited as Editor. After the performance I looked through my library copy of the play and googled it. It seems that she has done a good job of cutting out parts that aren’t comprehensible to non-Shakespearean scholars; one of the reasons this play isn’t performed as frequently as others is that its unabridged form is full of banter based on esoteric references.
Love’s Labor’s Lost is simple and silly; I went in expecting a convoluted plot, identical twins and warring states with disguised characters sowing confusion. Instead it is rather simple, the great misunderstanding being between people wooing sincerely and people flirting for fun. There are almost no subplots and all the matters of state are almost ignored. Basically, the play follows a king and his lords who make a vow to be perfect scholars and avoid women and other distractions for three years. As soon as they finish making the vow they are notified that the Princess of France and her ladies in waiting have arrived to discuss an important political matter. The men fall instantly in love and the women think they are just goofy charmers. Everything is flirtation and pranks and minor misunderstandings leading up to a happy ending. And all this happens in about two hours with a ten minute intermission, requiring less endurance than your typical Marvel movie.
The freshness of this unfamiliar play and the almost entirely Belmont student cast pairs well; the enthusiastic vows and infatuation and stunts and immaturity would not be as enjoyable or hopeful if they were performed by an older cast. This young cast is solid: audible and able to fluidly speak their lines as well as able to act with comedic timing. The beginning of the play opening night had no long faculty speeches thanking people; the lights went down, the typical recording requested that people silence their cell phones, and the performance began. Sound, lighting, stage resets, and the like went smoothly and professionally.
The stage design is simple: an exterior scene with a few props and an indoor scene decorated like a dorm room. Matching the college feel is the abundant use of music, from Erik Satie to Baha Men. Some of the musical moments have a rather TikTok vibe but it almost always is successful, continuing the modern feel of the performance. The sound design is by Jonah Burch, who also features as Cupid. An addition to the play, Cupid’s spotlighted DJ presence throughout the entirety of the show is occasionally distracting but often funny.
The costumes were mostly modern; the women in dresses, slacks, and rompers, the men mostly wearing button downs with the occasional vest, making the men seem more old-fashioned. The lovers are paired in matching colors which is a nice and helpful touch. The Princess of France’s dress and jacket are lovely and did a good job of setting her apart.
Accompanying the music is Calista Morrison’s choreography. The in-scene dances were energetic and funny, but the best moment is an added scene, where three deer and the princess perform a sort of hunting ballet. The audience, who laughed a lot and was engaged throughout the entire play, laughed the loudest here, as did I. The final scene in the play ends with a full-cast dance and, somehow, it works. The cast also dances to themed music through their bows and it makes for the smoothest ending applause I’ve seen.
The location is excellent; parking at Belmont’s South Garage is free and easy, just around the corner from the venue, and many tasty off-campus restaurants are a few minutes’ walk away, making it perfect for dinner and a show. We had ramen, Chick-fil-a milkshakes, and a nice walk around scenic campus before the play. The Troutt theatre is lovely and the seating is actually comfortable with a good view of the stage. Although it’s not an inexpensive date at almost $30 a ticket (student tickets are around $21), it is more fun than a movie and avoids the outdoor inconveniences of Shakespeare in the park.
This is the perfect play both for someone who is familiar with Shakespeare and wants to see something less-well known, and for someone who isn’t terribly familiar and wants an accessible, fun play. It is approachable (students sat behind us discussing the merits of Disney Channel Original sequels before the show and were engrossed by the play) and I’d highly recommend it to all, especially those looking for a fun date during the dreariest month of the year.
Love’s Labor’s Lost has shows February 18 and 19, and the 23rd through the 26th.
Here’s a link to performances and tickets: https://www.nashvilleshakes.org/winter-shakespeare