Marcus Kyd of DC theater company Taffety Punk offered a sheepish welcome before the performance of William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost this week. “You are in for…something.”
Kyd’s trepidation is falsely modest. Taffety’s approach to the play is self-described “Bootleg Shakespeare,” meaning the play is rehearsed and performed in a single day. Actors have learned their lines in advance (mostly), but convened on the day of the performance for the first and last rehearsal. The audience is thusly treated to the first run-through of what is effectively both opening and closing night.
This is the theatrical equivalent of shouting “hey, watch this” before attempting a back-flip in the driveway.
Theatrical braggadocio? Surely. But they’re forgiven because they’re so damn good at it.
Part Shakespeare in the Park and part Rocky Horror (complete with audience calls), Taffety sticks the landing to the audience’s delight.
Love’s Labours Lost is an early comedy of William Shakespeare. The play opens with the King of Navarre (Dan Crane) and three members of his court swearing an oath to reject the temptations of the world – most notably women – and commit themselves instead to academic pursuits for three years. Court-member Berowne (Shawn Fagan) offers a feeble resistance to the accord, reminding the King that the Princess of France (Tonya Beckman) is en-route to Navarre with a host of eligible bachelorettes equaling the King’s men in tow.
For the next two hours, the men of the court (including Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Dumaine and Chris Genebach as Longaville) contort themselves into misery as they attempt to adhere to their vows while simultaneously wooing the sly women of the Princess’s court (including Coral Smith as Lady Maria, Erin Sloan as Lady Katherine and Esther Williamson as Lady Rosaline).
Love letters ill-delivered by local bumpkin Costard (Max Reinhardsen) set the stage for some classic misdirection. Around the four ill-fated suitors swirl comic subplots including the drawling Constable Anthony Dull (Joe Brack), the colorful Don Adriano de Armado (Eric Hissom), his page Moth (Kimberly Gilbert), the much sought-after Jaquenetta (Victoria Reinsel) and others throughout.
It’s Shakespeare. The play stands on its own and doesn’t require a lot of help.
But Taffety deftly wields the work, delivering strong performances across the board. In particular, Hissom’s Don Adriano is delightfully flamboyant while Shawn Fagan’s Berowne masterfully grounds the farce with wit and charm. The troupe delivers glib banter with a wink throughout, prompting the (admittedly friendly) audience to laugh pretty much wherever Taffety wants them to.
Occasional flubs happen, but the cast glosses over forgotten lines and with grace and confidence, less a stumble and more an opportunity to win another laugh.
Taffety’s “one hand behind my back” approach to Shakespeare is polished enough to keep the work wholly intact while allowing the audience to feel like they’re in on a joke.
I, for one, look forward to future efforts where Taffety opts to use their right hand as well as the left, but this was a job well done.
This one-night-only free performance was held Monday, August 5 at the Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol Street SE WDC 20003
Love’s Labours Lost by William Shakespeare . directed by Lise Bruneau . choreography by Erin Mitchell . music by Amy Domingues . Featuring Tonya Beckman, Daniel Crane, Daniel Flint, Kimberly Gilbert, Marcus Kyd, Esther Williamson, James Beaman, Joe Brack, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Shawn Fagan, Chris Genebach, Eric Hissom, Max Reinhardsen, Victoria Reinsel, Erin Sloan, Coral Smith, and Matt Wilson. Produced by Taffety Punk . Reviewed by Jon Boughtin.