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LOVE’S LABOR’S LOST by William Shakespeare
Directed by Michael Kahn
Shakespeare Theatre Company
450 7th Street NW. ,Washington, D.C.

Commentary by Grace Cavalieri


LOVES’S LABOR’S LOST is one long tonguetwister punctuated by actors. And everything depends on how they use words: riddles, rhymes, limericks, doggerel. “The sweet smoke of rhetoric” Shakespeare said. This play has more couplets than any of Shakespeare’s, and was the first published in his name. It is not often performed and perhaps because of its length - almost 3 hours- or finding actors who can speak in many tongues. But one would have to be deprived of all 5 senses to not enjoy Michael Kahn’s new invention. Historically, the four Lords at the play’s center have been presented in modern dress of several vintages, in previous productions, but this has to be the wild child of them all. Inspired by the Beatles’ visit to the Maharishi in the 1960’s, Kahn has turned the play into just such an exact setting. He is “foresworn” to make the best of all Shakespeare’s tricks: the wrong notes to the wrong damsels, the characters hiding in the bush or up a tree, switching roles, disguises... all the beloved antics that make the comic in theater never a disappointment. And what actually happens: The four Lords are rock musicians during the 60’s. They arrive at the Ashram (Navarre) to study with The King of Navarre. We thought we knew a Cultural Revolution until Kahn got his hands on this one. These characters will not forsake paradise for love. And (a little shakily) take a vow ‘to fast, to study and to see no women.’ That was before four beauties arrive on their vespas (blue, orange, yellow). The Princess of France scooters on with her three maidens and they are HOT. Along with some subterranean plots, ultimately there is bleak satisfaction for loving unions. The ladies believe their time too short to pledge a commitment.... all on the wings of the shock of the King of France’s death announcement ... The ladies rule the day by trumping their suitors, outwitting them at their own games, to leave with a musical farewell. Shakespeare uses his favorite themes, that there is a price to pay for everything, and that the bargaining is where our fortune lies. Moreover, if everything matters than anything can happen, and in this production, it does. Even couplets performed to rock music. But it is the wordsmith who will want to see this play, and this particular presentation, for the lyrical is beautified by a brilliant raucous romp.... And for the nostalgic debris, the ex-hippies should not miss it. 

This production will travel in August to Royal Shakespeare Company’s Festival in Stratford-Upon-Avon. In Washington, through July 30, phone 202-547-1122.


Grace Cavalieri is a Playwright, a Poet, and Producer of “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress" on public radio.

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