SALT LAKE CITY — New World Shakespeare Company’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost creatively sets the action of the play within the context of a reality TV show. This modern adaptation makes sense as the play opens on King Ferdinand and his three companions having picked to live in a house for three years, devoting themselves to self-effacement and study, and swearing off women in favor of spartan simplicity. The reality show turns out to be more like The Bachelor than The Real World when the Princess of France and her three companions come to visit. Director Blayne Wiley and assistant director Camilla Edsberg treats the King and his friends’ contract as a competition: Which man will be able to resist the wiles of femininity the longest, and which will be sent home with a rose?
The production opens with hosts Mercade (Blayne Wiley) and Jaquenetta (Camilla Edsberg) explaining the rules of the competition and presenting video introductions (by videographer Andrea Peterson) for each participant. These introductions were fun to watch and developed some characters who receive less attention in the action of the play. While I enjoyed these videos, I was frustrated by how much time was taken to introduce even unimportant characters before jumping into any actual Shakespearean language. Without omitting scenes to make up for lost time (the comedic play put on by Armado, Costard, and friends in the final scene of the play was one that could easily have been removed), the play ran to nearly three hours. In addition, the reality show format was almost entirely abandoned by the end of the play, which made the format lack continuity.
The reality TV show approach often worked very well, though, to move the story forward. Using videos in the place of reading epistles aloud was a stroke of genius. The video in which Lord Longaville (Thomas Fowler) lounged across a couch while professing his love for Lady Maria was amazing, as was Armado’s hilariously sincere speech to Jaquenetta. Using Jaquenetta and Mercade as hosts (often even reading off cue cards) helped to keep the audience in-the-loop of the action and cleverly interspersed some easily-accessible comedy. As Jaquenetta, Edsberg was particularly talented at milking the situational humor in each of her scene, often speaking with a rigid smile reminiscent of local newscasters.
Anna Marie Coronado’s costume design was quite ingenious and fit thereality show cliché by having each character fit some particular trope: Ferdinand (Monte Garcia) was the fabulous-haired jock who reminded me of A.C. Slater, Lord Berowne (Zach Reynolds) was the hipster, Lord Longaville (Thomas Fowler) was trying to be cool in some strange mid-’90s way that just felt very creepy, and Lord Dumain (Eric Leckman) was an indoors-sunglassed bro. The same was true for the women: The Princess of France (Ellesse Hargreaves) was the down-to-earth leader, Lady Rosaline (Andrea Peterson) was the athlete, Lady Maria (Gabrielle Neafsey) was the girl next door, and Lady Katherine (Mindy Pike) was the geek. Their companion, Boyet (Tracy Handsford), was the logical planner.
Several actors were a pleasure to watch. Zach Reynolds’ (Lord Berowne) delivery lent a casual air to Shakespearean and his body language accentuated the humor inherent in his dialogue. As Don Adriano de Armado (whom Shakespeare bills as a “fantastical Spaniard”), Jon Turner infused his hairbrained lines with an enthusiastic sincerity that made him both hilarious and sympathetic. I loved what Christopher-Alan Pederson brought to the character of Armado’s page, Moth, whose flamboyant affection and musical talent made his twist on the character a welcome addition. As Costard, Sean Keene was the quintessential sleazebag whose leather jacket and backward pageboy communicated his self-satisfaction and made his loutish behavior seem perfectly characteristic. Even in his very minor role as Anthony Dull, I wanted Dustin Kennedy to be on stage all the time. His body language physiognomy gave him a constant air of apathetic arrogance that was hilarious to watch.
Both the Princess of France (Ellesse Hargreaves) and King of Navarre (Monte Garcia) gave down-to-earth performances befitting of the royalty they portrayed. They were benevolent leaders who mingled humor with their personal motivations so that their characters were easily accessible and likeable.
Mikayla Beyer’s Holofernes was excellent; her lectures on Latin phrasing were so bombastic as to be entirely banal. Her sexual advances on Anthony Dull, however, felt out of character and didn’t work. The attempt at physical humor distracted from, rather than complementing the wit inherent in Shakespeare’s dialogue. In contrast, Holofernes’ companion Sir Nathaniel, Todd Woolston’s ridiculous bookishness always made me smile.
In her role opposite Berowne, Andrea Peterson played the witty Lady Rosaline. Unfortunately, instead of being Berowne’s equal, Peterson delivered her lines with an unnatural cadence which I presume was meant to come across as attitude. All the humor in her lines was lost in frequent hair flipping, dancing, and arap-like emphasis on rhyme. I mention this largely because Peterson seemed to be a talented actress, and the interpretation of Rosaline that she was given simply didn’t work for me or either of the guests I brought along. The flaws in the role were glaring in contrast to the easily understood, always humorous Reynolds. For future productions, I’d highly recommend putting more emphasis on the humor inherent in Lady Rosaline’s witty dialogue and cutting down the distracting attitude and physical humor.
The play made several creative uses of video, including letters, character introductions, and replacing the play’s “hunting” scenes with the use of a Wii. But for a play that relied so heavily on technology there were quite a few distracting technical difficulties. Videos weren’t always started at the correct time, and some skipped over important dialogue (Reynolds and Keene both compensated for the difficulties with some well-timed humor that caught the audience up on what they’d missed). Audio balance (Bill Osborne and Blayne Wiley), with video volume being too low sometimes, or music being so loud as to drown out on-stage dialogue, was also a problem. I was sitting on the second row, but I still could understand almost nothing said during the masquerade scene. Aside from sound and video, however, lighting (David and Jacob Bruner) was flawless. The set (Dustin Kennedy and Blayne Wiley) was perfect for a reality show, with a few chairs for lounging below the stage, and a couch, bookshelves, and mantelpiece on the stage. Without ever rearranging the set, the staging worked for every scene.
New World Shakespeare Company’s take on Love’s Labour’s Lost was creative and often fun. Due to the lengthy introduction and the production’s failure to follow through with the reality TV format through the end of the play, this adaptation didn’t entirely work. Still, if you’re able to cast a blind eye on its failings, the innovative approach and strong performances from several actors make this production worth seeing.