Post5’s ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ is a party in the quad

With many of its seniors away for the summer, Post5 pledges some frosh

Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They break up.

Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost is basically a quadruple batch of that. Four girls, four boys, four loves, four breakups—all happening at once, topped off by a play within a play and a closing song.

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Post5 Theatre’s production of the show, which opened last weekend, sets this story as a co-ed college romp. The “boys” sport crested blazers and do gymnastics in varsity tank tops. The “girls” gossip at a slumber party. The company’s apartment-courtyard outdoor space complements the premise particularly well…as does the preponderance of “frosh.” This show brings a slew of debuts by actors who’ve never appeared at Post5 Theatre before. In a cast of 12, the inimitable Ithica Tell and the jocular Jim Vadala are the only two company members. Hans Eleveld and Jessica Tidd are returning visitors. For everyone else, this is orientation.

Pledge month

After spending the last couple of seasons building a fan base for a core group of actors, the company is experiencing, if not complete turnover, at least major disbursement of its mainstays into other projects. Regular collaborator Caitlyn Fisher-Draeger is busy with Anon It Moves’ upcoming Hamlet/Stoppard two-fer; company members Nicole Accuardi and Jessi Walters have jumped ship for Baddass Theatre and Bag & Baggage, respectively; Sam Dinkowitz is in Portland Shakes’ The Tempest, Chris Beatty’s been hitting the parks with Portland Actors Ensemble’s Antony and Cleopatra and various roles in OPSFest, artistic director Ty Boice is in Seattle prepping for a fall role in Angels in America, and Phillip J. Berns is happily playing park ranger in Yosemite National Forest.

Not to worry; the new crew generally upholds Post5’s signature style of young, fun, accessible Shakespeare, albeit at a lower hum of intensity than the old guard. But, hey: It’s summer. It’s a comedy. We’re in a courtyard. A helicopter flies over; a neighbor’s window slides shut. Four couples are supposedly falling in love-at-first-sight right before our eyes. How seriously could we possibly take it?

Love’s Labours Lost opens as four men from the court of Navarre vow to abstain from distractions for their next three years of study. Post5 reframes this rite as a sort of frat pledge, with three young preps kowtowing to a fourth guy who’s confiscating their stuff. One by one, the noobs relinquish a porno mag, junk food, condoms, a cell phone. Self-serious leader Ferdinand (Will Steele) immediately clashes with irreverent new recruit Berowne (Jim Vadala), while two more dudes, Dumaine (Hans Eleveld) and Longaville (Max Maller), stand by as lower-key straight men.

All four bros’ studious intentions are soon thwarted, though, when a group of debutante-like ladies rattles their gates. The Princess (Danielle Frimer) is East Coast no-nonsense all the way; her friend Rosaline (Jessica Tidd) walks jauntily and wields a suitor-slicing wit; the other two, Katherine (Jordin Bradley) and Maria (Allison Rangel) are less well-defined characters, comedy straight women who correspond with their male counterparts.

These eight young people are lined up to be mated like so many socks: leader with leader, spitfire on spitfire, the others just rolled into two basically interchangeable sets. But between times, they favor us with Shakespeare’s scripted (and typical) mooning lover routine, as well as Post5’s interesting addition of exaggerated gender posturing. The women wear white for much of the show as if permanently waiting to be wed. In the masquerade scene, they duck behind sleep masks with huge black eyelashes, while the men don strap-on black mustaches.

The four actors in the less spirited (and probably hence less coveted) lover roles mercifully each get to play a second, more comic part, too. These roles are implicitly hammy, but fun enough to watch. Bradley is plucky and game as page boy Moth; Rangel and Maller make good sport of eggheads pontificating in their scholarly robes as Sir Nathaniel and Holofernes; and Eleveld prat-stumbles and stutters well as bobby-hatted campus security guy Dull.

Other plot-cogs are Ithica Tell as Boyet, the women’s clever changeling handmaiden/manservant, who—typical of Tell—makes the most of a bit role and leaves us wanting more. Danielle Chaves and Jeff Painter are the amorous, illicit couple Jaquenetta and Costard, their 90’s-grunge-influenced clothes implying that they’re not students, but rather escapees from the local CC.

Authentic Frenchman Jean-Luc Boucherot as Don Adriano de Armando is a real wild card, and with his ragged Elizabethan jacket and age, it’s never quite clear what he’s doing on “campus.” (Maybe he’s a loony adjunct professor, with less to lose by pursuing a crush on the student-aged Jaquenetta.) Boucherot’s projection and energy all but steal the first act; he’s definitely the most “outdoorsy”-seeming player of the bunch and could probably commandeer even the kind of big park crowds that PAE’s Antony & Cleopatra has recently been drawing. His French accent is quite thick, distorting certain words (“sool” for “soul”), but his character is described as “a foreigner,” so the casting’s apropos. For Post5’s culturally inclusive Shakespeare brand, a heavy accent’s nothing; in last summer’s production of Caesar, Veronika Nuñez as Portia spoke about half of her lines completely in Spanish.

Vadala and Frimer probably hold the closest roles to “main character” in this diffusely-focused story, and even though they’re not paired off as lovers, they’re kind of the audience’s male and female focal points. Both sparkle with mischief for much of the show, but Frimer also eventually conjures a hint of romance and grief to drive home the intentionally anticlimactic ending (That’s not a spoiler; it’s in the title.)

Music and metaphor

Post5’s players tend to fall all across the musical ability spectrum, from musical maestro to totally tone-deaf. Tartuffe‘s music this February, supplied by a live bluegrass trio of actors in the show, was superb. Arabian Nights from last season had fabulous ensemble singing. On the other hand, during a May performance of Hamlet, artistic director Boice toodled quite ineptly with a wooden flute to emphasize a line in which Hamlet accused Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of trying to play him like a pipe. But did the sour notes damage the narrative? Not at all. To paraphrase: “Are you guys trying to play me as poorly as I’m playing this pipe?” Hamlet’s point worked fine despite his terrible flauting, which is probably why Boice—no dummy and a great self-effacer—did it.

All this to say, from Post5’s perspective, sometimes music is actually music, and at other times—particularly when it sounds bad—it’s merely a metaphor. No surprise, then, that some actors sing and others squawk in this show, all while embracing complete self-awareness of their respective skill levels. Maller even briefly raps some of Holofernes’ pedantic ramblings while Eleveld beat-boxes. It’s terrible. It’s supposed to be. Vadala, not a good singer in this show, uses his tortured tenor to show us just how love-sick he really is for Rosaline. Frimer and Tell sing duelling musical pitches during innuendo-tinged banter about “hitting it,” leading us to believe that they mean “hitting” both the desired note, and…”it.”

Danielle Chaves as Jaquenetta and Jeff Painter as Costard do most of the musical heavy lifting, schlepping instruments on and offstage and playing them adeptly, also carrying beautiful (original?) tunes through sections of text that the script indicates are songs but of course Shakespeare doesn’t bother to score. Chaves closing “cuckoo song” solo is especially lovely, her voice reminiscent of the softer tones from Pink Martini’s China Forbes (whose recordings also waft through intermission).

Dream versus Reality

Scholars can’t say for sure whether Shakespeare penned Love’s Labour’s Lost before or after the more popular A Midsummer Night’s Dream; regardless, Shakespeare nerds should note the two plays’ many parallels. Their respective endings, however, read almost like different choose-your-own adventure conclusions for the same story.

In Dream: Three pairs of lovers, united at last after being subjected to a series of pranks by fairies, watch an amateur play-within-a-play. In the glow of their amorous mood, they encourage and compliment the actors. They retire to their beds to make love, blessed by Puck, who has earlier declared: “Jack shall have Jill. Nought shall go ill. The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well.”

In Labour’s: Four pairs of lovers, meeting up after playing a series of pranks to humiliate each other’s wooing efforts, watch an amateur play-within-a-play. In their insecurity, they become impatient with the actors and heckle the show to a standstill. Then they receive terrible news of a king’s death, which compels all couples to part from each other at once and remain apart for a year. “Our wooing doth not end like an old play. Jack hath not Jill,” moans Berowne.

Quickly, a few thoughts here:

It’s more poetic, and more easily resolved, when fairies toy with your romance than when real political events and family obligations hinder it. That being the case, it’s tougher to be a lover in the real world than in fairy land.

Guess what? Audiences’ appreciation of a play may be heavily, subconsciously influenced by how well they’re connecting with their dates that day. That makes it tough to be an actor, since you can’t make strangers fall in love with each other…or can you?

Sure, it’s conventional for couples to get together at the end of a comedy, but don’t get too comfortable. Usually Shakespeare meets that expectation, but he reserves the right to defy it.

 

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