By Kelly MacBlane
It was like a spoken song. That was how my ears heard the language of Shakespeare ebbing and flowing from the mouths of the skilled actors on the intimate, Chicago storefront theater stage. With little knowledge of the show other than the basic plot, I found myself falling into a trance of the rhythm of the language, spoken so fluently and eloquently by the actors in Invictus Theatre’s production of Love’s Labours Lost. I marveled at their ability to take the poetry of Shakespeare and turn it into a realistic sounding dialogue between friends, lovers and partners. Dylan S. Roberts’ direction provided the physical cues to help the audience follow along with the story and understand the humor of one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies.
At the beginning of the show, a king convinces his three lords to sign a pact with him for three years time, they will eat one meal a day, fast once a week, sleep three hours a night and abstain from women in an attempt to focus all of their energy on the pursuit of knowledge. Moments later, the Princess of France and her three ladies arrive to visit the King and suddenly, upon seeing the beautiful women, the King and his lords realize their pact will be difficult to uphold. Throw in a Spanish nobleman and his page, some Elizabethan clowns and of course, a play within a play and you have the complicated plot of Love’s Labours Lost.
The highlight of the production was the acting. Shakespeare done right can be brilliant while done poorly can be a drag and Invictus Theatre’s production tended towards the former. Charles Askenaizer, the artistic director of the theater company, was phenomenal as one of the king’s lords, Berowne. Askenaizer stole the show. From the moment he began speaking Berowne’s doubts about the pact the king and his friends were embarking on, I was mesmerized. The scenes in the play that he was in were the most interesting and engaging and when Berowne delivers his soliloquy about his love for Rosaline, I could feel his passion. Luckily, Rachael Soglin’s Rosaline, one of the princess’s ladies, matched this passion with her sass and confidence. As much as I enjoyed the scenes with Berowne, Rosaline’s were equally as engaging.
The large cast worked their hardest to keep the long Shakespeare text moving. King Ferdinand, played by Chad Bay and his other lords, Sam Cheeseman as Dumain and Taylor Glowac as Longaville were believable as lovelorn suitors and the Princess of France, played by Raina Lynn and her other ladies, Katherine Duffy as Maria and Amber Cartwright as Katherine had the strength and boldness to counter the lovesick lords. Among the minor characters, Rae Hamilton-Vargo’s Moth stuck out to me. Hamilton-Vargo’s more contemporary reading of the dialogue provided an interesting contrast to the rhythms of the other actors that was appropriate to the humor Moth brings as the sidekick of Martin Diaz-Valdes’s Don Armado.
Ken Rolf’s minimal scenic design and Satoe Schechner’s simple and contemporary costumes kept the focus on the story and the language. My one complaint? The length. Following Shakespeare is hard-work and while I admire the cast’s amazing job at keeping the story moving, there were moments when it was hard to keep up my intense focus. However, that is not really a commentary on the cast and direction of the production but more so on the playwright himself. But who am I to criticize Shakespeare?!
As the show ends, Berowne turns to the audience. With a twinkle in his eye, he ends with the line “That’s too long for a play.” Shakespeare wrote an additional page and a half of dialogue after this line. Was Invictus Theatre’s ending a nod to the audience? A clever thank you for our time? In the end, I enjoyed Invictus Theatre’s production of Love’s Labor Lost and encourage Shakespeare enthusiasts to find their way to the Frontier Theater for this lively show.
Invictus Theatre’s Love’s Labours Lost is now playing at the Frontier Theater , 1106 W. Thorndale, Chicago, through November 18. Performance times vary; check the website at The Frontier. Find more information about current plays on our Current Shows page and at theat