Love's Labors Won
Love’s Labor’s Won started out the lost and rare sequel to Shakespeare’s comedic play Love’s Labor’s Lost, which tells the misadventures of four young noblemen who fall in love with four young noblewomen, and ends in the death of the King of France. In Scott Kaiser’s adaptation of this lost play, Kaiser decomposes Shakespeare’s fantastical romances into an organic yet still fantastical take on love that calls for analysis into its definition. The show was held in the Purnell Center of the Arts from Nov. 16-18 and Nov. 28-Dec. 2 at 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays and at 8:00 p.m. on all days for the entirety of its run.
Written and directed by the Director of Company Development at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Love’s Labor’s Won sets itself in a post-war world, after the conclusion of a large-scale war similar to World War I. Four young noble men: Ferdinand, Dumaine, Berowne, and Longaville return to negotiate an armistice to end the European war that threatens to divide the kingdom of Navarre, over which Ferdinand reigns. Additionally, the four men also encounter their respective lovers, Princess Isabelle of France, her close friend, Katherine, Rosaline, and Maria once again. However, the eight characters unexpectedly find that the war has not only established a physical distance but an emotional distance between the close bonds they once shared.
Kaiser’s adaptations to the setting and atmosphere of Love’s Labor’s Won and its original play help to effectively portray his intent to examine the effects of a catastrophic war on an individual and the bonds that surround them. However, some of his execution and direction blunted the sharp delivery of what he sought to convey. While the acting was effective and incredibly relatable, possibly due to the personal nature of love in general, Kaiser’s adaptation could best be described as too out of place. While it seemed to want to offer a different dimension on love in a post-war-torn era, the play came off as a too-typical Elizabethan comedy, feeling as if it existed in a similar vein as Carnegie Mellon’s production of The Rover from last year, which I realize now was originally written in a completely different artistic period. While it seemed to want to pitch a new perspective on veterans and their post-war lifestyle, their view was limited and narrow, and it didn’t go as in depth as I hoped it would. In short, Kaiser’s adaptation felt very much like its setting: it felt very much like a classic Shakespeare play that the famous playwright himself would have written, but it didn’t carry over effectively into the present day and during this adaptation.
As a fellow fan of Shakespeare, for some reason I was a bit turned off by the rhyming language of the banter between the couples, and its frequency throughout. Maybe I’m just really bitter about love in general as of now, and the standard Shakespearean language did not resonate with me at this time. But while I applaud the text for maintaining an atmosphere of historical accuracy, I think it made the play’s more serious discussions too lighthearted for their subject matter. As a result, the language felt out of place and sometimes took me out of the mood. For the most part, during these moments I followed along for the sake of following along, rather than having a true investment in the story itself.
As previously mentioned, however, it was truly the acting of this show that stood out. Unlike the language of the play, the Shakespearean acting style of the nine actors involved help to truly set the mood and vibe of the play and enriched the story, making the World War I setting more interesting and intriguing. Their acting effectively combated the serious nature of World War I, and all nine actors gave a huge and fantastic breath of life to the characters they portrayed. Senior drama student Jordan Plutzer led the play off to a great start through his monologue as a physical embodiment of War at the start of the play, framing the motives and intentions of the play and setting up an interesting dynamic. In fact, I found sometimes that I wanted to hear more from War’s perspective as the events of the play progressed. Senior drama student Kyle Decker’s Longaville, a war prisoner accused of being a spy, perfectly played the voice of reason and the contrasted voice of hope among his battered friends, who he symbolized in his exchange with them in the second act. Decker’s performance is the most effective in conveying Kaiser’s intentions and messages, if not saying them verbatim, and his performance is a great representation of the entirety of Love’s Labor’s Won. Other standout performances include senior drama student Eleanor Pearson’s Maria, who carried her role as Princess Isabelle’s lady-in-waiting with perfect dignity and grace; and senior drama student Aubyn Heglie, who portrayed Rosaline with a great amount of empathy and relatability. Heglie’s Rosaline additionally closed out the play perfectly, and through her character arc, where she learns to open herself up and soften her heart, had a deeply personal touch that made her performance special.
Additionally Love’s Labor’s Won unexpectedly featured some musical talent. Senior drama students Christian Strange and Rayquila Durham, who played Berowne and Jaquenetta respectively, blew the audience away during both their casual and meaningful bursts into song. As a singer, Jaquenetta’s personal conflict between performing lighthearted songs and melancholy songs even served to convey a larger message, which I saw as fascinating and somewhat well-done.
This play, especially with its ending, somewhat forcibly yet smoothly creates a happy ending for all five couples involved, but Love’s Labor’s Won was still a memorable production that had a lot to say, if one looked hard enough. It may not be Carnegie Mellon University’s strongest play during their drama season, but Love’s Labor’s Won is still an incredibly memorable production with a tremendous amount of heart put into every step of the way.