Encore Michigan

‘Love’s Labors Lost’ goes to college

Review August 10, 2023 Encore Staff


ROYAL OAK, MI–Love’s Labors Lost, presented by Shakespeare Royal Oak, was a fun way to see one of Shakespeare’s less produced comedies.

Director Craig Ester set the play in a Black fraternity in the late 80s. In doing so he not only provided a unique opportunity for this play to be done with a mostly BiPOC cast, but a whole lot of fun for the designers as well.

Before the show even started Jarod Clark’s sound design had the audience dancing in their seats.  Scenic Designer Michael Suchyta designed and built a set that not only served well as the fraternity, but created a fun balcony for spying (it’s a Shakespearean comedy, and you know someone has to be spying on someone else!).  He also managed to build in space so that the actors could do some quick changes out of view of the audience. Another fun touch were several trees that were carried on, for people to hide behind and spy, of course.  They provided a fun moment when the hiding Ferdinand drew attention to himself and then quickly used his arms as extra tree limbs. 

The costumes, by Mary Copenhagen, ranging from the bright and colorful to the serious jackets of scholars were not only a very fun way to further establish the time and place, but highlighted each character’s role in the story. 

Ester started the show with a party, a fun and efficient way to set the time, tone, and place . The central characters entered as members of Greek organizations would at Historically Black Colleges. The Lambda Lambda Alpha fraternity brothers, Ferdinand (Jonathan Jones), Berowne (Dan Johnson), Longaville (Maurizio Dominquez), and Dumain (Dominik Greyson) entered stepping, energetically clapping and chanting.  The Sigma Mu Rho sorority sisters, Princes (Ashley Kay), Rosaline (Tayler Jones), Maria (Chania Vondell), and Katherine (Princess Beyonce Jones), strolled in up the center aisle. 

Once established, the story took off.  The brothers swear to devote themselves to study, and to foreswear several distractions, including women.  Of course, once doing so, the women show up, and mayhem ensues as inevitably everyone is falling in love.

Ester and the performers took time to make sure the language was clear and crisp, with the actors showing us, not just telling us, what they were talking about. This clarity certainly helped audience members follow the often-convoluted plot: even if they missed some of the details the overall action was easy to follow. 

Subtlety is rarely called for in a Shakespearean comedy, and the performers did a fine job of keeping the energy and silliness up, while still having moments of sweetness, doubt, and even sadness.  

Comedies usually end with a wedding, but Love’s Labors Lost ends with the couples postponing any nuptials until the Princess can mourn the sudden death of her father for a year.  It’s not the neat and tidy bow of many shows.  But all is NOT lost, for the characters, or the lucky audiences at Starr Jaycee Park, who got to enjoy this wonderful, creative, inventive production.