“Love’s” a Laboured Opening for Actors

Richard Prioleau and Kimiye Corwin in “Loves Labour’s Lost.”

Richard Prioleau and Kimiye Corwin in “Loves Labour’s Lost.”

It could be called “The Year of Shakespeare.”

The power of the playwright’s works played by and large in a straightforward fashion with crisp, clear action marked the resurrection of Kentucky Shakespeare this summer. That charge was accompanied by local companies with a talent for his works contributing their talents to the Central Park season in the Community Partners series.

The vitality and timelessness of Shakespeare’s ideas, people and words has been thoroughly asserted. Now, Actors Theatre opens its new season with its own Elizabethan offering – one flavored with a twist.

The institution has brought in a group of artists to compose a “reimagining” of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” The twist is a potpourri: the tale of loves spanning the romantic spectrum is infused with dialogue from throughout Shakespeare’s canon, the idea being to celebrate love in the many forms he captured it.

Done properly, an overtly interpretive approach to Shakespeare can explore, illuminate and reinvigorate his works, bringing them before an audience anew. Missing the mark, it can reaffirm the prejudice of impenetrability and artistic insecurity that lead many patrons to take a pass on his work.

Joe Morton in “Titus Andronicus” in 1978.

Joe Morton in “Titus Andronicus” in 1978.

This production from the artistic team behind Minneapolis’s The Moving Company has some very strong, clever, moving ideas. But planting trees upon trees upon trees does not make a forest.

For the unfamiliar, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” is the tale of a king, defeated in war, enlisting his aides to take a three-year sabbatical devoted to study, fasting and total abstinence from the presence of women. Naturally, this vow is quickly abandoned upon the arrival of the princess of France and her companions. A bawdy trifecta of clowns rounds out the escapades and gives the groundlings something at which to guffaw.

The action starts off strongly enough with a regal and gently authoritative Ferdinand (Richard Prioleau) pronouncing the oath. The reactions of his individual compatriots – the fresh-faced Durmaine (Brandon Garegnani), cynical Berowne (Jim Lichtscheidl) and shell-shocked Longaville (Lucas Melsha) – give real gravity to their pledge.

The arrival of the larger-than-life Don Adriano, his screwball page Moth (co-conceivers Steve Epp and Nathan Keepers, respectively) and the object of their mutual affection, Jacquenetta (Heidi Bakke), explodes the action into a kaleidoscopic view of love in its many forms and stages.

Some modes are sublime, like the wordless courtship between Longaville and Maria (Emily King), played out in glorious balletic congress. But the majority of the play is painted in bold, monochromatic technicolor that, over two acts, wears on the senses.

The complexities of the original lovers’ four-fold storyline are compressed to an almost montage-like briskness in favor of making the story a mile wide and an inch deep. Many moments are art unto themselves; the lesser ones are on par with poorly conceived musical revues.

There is greatness within. Lichtscheidl gives Berowne admirable dimension in his fits of frustration and flights of fancy. Director Dominique Serrand makes the most of this team’s imaginative thrust with the employment of massive drops to create the world of this play.

Many of the preceding thoughts might sound like the grumblings of a Shakespeare purist. But I have no trifle with a conscious effort to reevaluate Shakespeare; I simply prefer that the evaluation come from an excavation of the play, rather than from a thousand other disparate directions. Such an approach is too much labor for too little pay.

“The Comedy of Errors” in 1996.

“The Comedy of Errors” in 1996.

“Love’s Labour’s Lost” plays through Sept. 21. For tickets and more information, call 502.584.1265 or go to www.actorstheatre.org.

“The Bard and the Binghams” Accompanies “Love’s Labours” at ATL

As Actors Theatre opens its 2014-2015 with a comedy from the venerated playwright, the playhouse is also celebrating its rich history with the works of William Shakespeare.

The Actors Theatre Gallery is currently presenting “The Bard and the Binghams: Shakespeare at Actors Theatre,” honoring the local community’s support of performances of William Shakespeare’s plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville for over 25 years. The gallery will run through Oct. 31.

Since 1989, through their generous Bingham Shakespeare Endowment, Barry Bingham Sr. and Mary Bingham have enabled Actors Theatre to produce biennial Shakespeare productions, making Shakespeare’s plays an integral part of Actors’ repertoire.

This show will feature photographs, costumes and props displays from previous Shakespeare productions at Actors Theatre, celebrating the theater’s unique relationship with the Bard.

Actors Theatre Gallery is located at Actors Theatre of Louisville, 316 W. Main St. downtown. For more information, visit ActorsTheatre.org or call 502.584.1205. Admission to the gallery is free.