The Classical Acting Academy at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre—the free eight-week course designed to introduce young professionals to both the acting techniques and performance of classical theater—has returned with Love’s Labour’s Lost, a bright and lively production of a light and witty play.
The weeks of preparation have not gone amiss, as the whole cast gives some very strong performances. Terrell Green plays a likable and long-winded Ferdinand, King of Navarre, whose grandiose sense of fun occasionally overwhelms his common sense. In contrast, Katherine Roberts as the Princess of France is eminently down-to-earth, playful and good-natured even as she cuts through nonsense. Her retinue follows suit: the wit of Rosaline (Madalyn Czerniak) is more penetrating than jesting, while the Ladies Maria (Janice McDuffy) and Katherine (Gracie Martin) refuse to sacrifice the camaraderie of their circle for their love-fool love interests. Yet despite playing the role of straight “man”, each maintains their character’s clear appreciation of a good joke.
Fortunately, there are many to be had: the cast is particularly talented at both verbal and physical comedy. Joshua Kachnycz’s Berowne is ruefully funny, and his normally overshadowed friends Dumaine and Longaville (Jason Beckmann and Brandon Essig, respectively) make up in background gags the development they are denied as side characters. The clowns, meanwhile, each have their own individual quirkiness. Lizzie Spellman’s Costard has the quick wit, unfortunate luck, and complete lack of mind-to-mouth filter of a comedian escaped directly from vaudeville; Nicholas Scheppard gives Don Adriano de Armado, A Fantastical Spaniard, an almost charming lack of self-awareness and the graceful physicality of a slightly drunk ballerino. Even more minor roles are memorable: Eren Taylor Brock reaches a definite honorificabilitudinitas with his performance of the hilariously uptight and pompous Holofernes the schoolmaster, while a very funny Stephanie N. Walters imbues Jaquenetta with equal parts sweetness and wild, rampaging flirtatiousness.
The production makes great use of its Motown soundtrack, the perfect complement to the actors’ energy. The costume design is similarly retro, though much less specific: Costard has her vaudevillian pork pie hat and bow tie, the dresses of the Princess and her ladies give off a vague ‘60s vibe, and Nathaniel’s bowler and bulky suit transcend time with their encapsulation of stuffy Britishness. Costume changes are equally revealing of character. After learning she will be living in a field for the duration of her visit, the Princess exchanges her minidress and preppy pearl set for a practical plaid shirt and Bean boots; her ladies follow suit, and spend the rest of the play happily in casual outdoor attire, even while entertaining the King and his friends. The latter, meanwhile, consider formalwear to consist of putting on a suit jacket, and Russian costumes to include a fez, a necktie headband, fake mustaches, and fake mustaches repurposed as unibrows.
Alex Bock’s set design is particularly suited to both the production and the play. Made entirely of sheets of paper covered in writing, it evokes the text’s preoccupation with learning and poetry—and with delivered and discarded love letters. Most of the set consists of heaps of crumpled pages, rhythmically swept into new positions during the musical interludes between scenes, and perfect for showcasing the youthful high spirits of the main characters as they get into leaf fights and hide in leaf piles. In the second half of the play, the curtain is pulled back to reveal a small copse of paper trees; even the masks donned by the Princess and her ladies are made from paper.
Director Aaron Cromie has an intriguing approach to the end of the play, a potentially unsatisfying romantic cliffhanger with a lost sequel. The play’s light-hearted tone takes a turn for the serious when the Princess receives word her father has died (a brief but poignant bit by Roberts). The ladies admit they hadn’t taken the gentlemen’s protestations of love seriously, and though promises are exchanged, they must be delayed for a year as the Princess and her retinue return to France. However, Cromie follows these final lines with a musical montage showing the passing seasons: the King and his buddies finally devote themselves to their scholarship (Monarchy 101, Pre-Med, Women’s Studies, and Russian), Armado commits to Jaquenetta and their baby, and the lovers are at last reunited.
By providing this resolution, Cromie’s ending shows the characters growing up without growing out of all the qualities that made them so entertaining in the first place. The Classical Acting Academy’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost is both a celebration of youth and a hopeful take on growing in maturity—a perfect match for its cast of rising actors, already excelling with their futures still ahead.