Costume Review: Love’s Labor’s Lost

Last night I had the chance to catch the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s free Shakespeare in the park, which runs every summer here in DC. The production this year was Love’s Labor’s Lost.

The plot is your typical Shakespearean farce. Three young men hie to Spain where they intend to spend three years in ascetic study under the tutelage of King Ferdinand, refraining from wine, women, and song. (Tally — four men.) Just as they have all sworn to abstinence, along comes the pretty pretty Princess of France with her three attendant ladies. (Tally — four women.) The men swoon. The ladies watch, bemused, as the men first each secretly profess their love, then engage in various clumsy attempts at wooing.

Love’s Labor’s Lost is not Will’s best play. The plot is frankly, a little thin, and suffers from a very jerky transition two thirds of the way through the second act. He done good with the dialogue, though, and there’s lots of barbed wordplay and witty banter between the men and the women — mostly favoring the women, as the men are left tongue-tied and befuddled.

Director Michael Kahn picks up on the theme of witty women newly vying in the public sphere with men (a theme surely identifiable to Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audiences who find themselves with a woman in charge, which was even less common then than now) and sets the play at some nebulous time in the late sixties or early seventies, with the court of the King of Spain standing in for some eastern ashram where the boys can go drop out for a couple of years while they find themselves.

The costume designer was Catherine Zuber, and she has a lot of fun, especially with the ladies of France. In their first entrance, they zoom in on vespas, clad in shiny tight capri pants. In their hunting scene, they are all in khaki hotpants and miniskirts, wielding bows. We visit them later in a candy-colored rainbow of a-line minidresses.

Shakespeare writes a scene where the young men visit the women disguised as Muscovites; in this production, this translates into a bevy of space-suit clad cosmonauts. It’s a decidedly odd take on the subject, and I’m not sure it works, entirely.

Subplots number two. First, the Swain Costard, a man somewhat rough around the edges, is caught consorting with the Maid Jaquenetta. Being as Ferdinand is the King, not only is he himself sworn to abstinence, but he’s roped in everyone else in his kingdom. Costard is delivered to the custody of Don Adriano de Armado, a minor noble, who then himself falls head over heels with the Jaquenetta, managing to get her knocked up by the middle of Act 2.

Michael Milligan plays Costard as a freaked-out stoner (think Otto in the Simpsons), and he gets a wardrobe entirely of vests and 14 inch bell-bottoms. He’s also brilliant; pulling this off with 16th century English is no small feat.

The second subplot is the play-within-the-play, which is performed for the nobles by an assortment of provincials, including the abovementioned Costard and Armado. John Robert Tillotson is a hiliarious Holofernes, the pompous academic who directs the production, who peppers his speech with various Latin phrases. All he needs is an academic gown. The rest is in his delivery and body language.

The production runs through Sunday night; it’s free, but you need to pick up a ticket in advance.

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One Response to “Costume Review: Love’s Labor’s Lost”

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