Review: Shakespeare Grows in Brooklyn with Smith Street Stage’s "Love’s Labor’s Lost"

Love Labor’s Lost

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Raquel Chavez

Assistant Directed by Mahayla Laurence

Presented by Smith Street Stage at Carroll Park 

Court Street and Smith Street, Brooklyn, NYC

June 5-23, 2024

Photo courtesy of The PR Social
Deftly highlighting for a modern audience Shakespeare’s satire of lovers and especially bad love poetry, Smith Street Stage’s free production of Love’s Labor’s Lost presents a contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s early comedy in the vein of a Love Island/Bachelor-inspired, campy reality show. Reconfiguring the Princess of France’s attendant Boyet as the orchestrator of both the ladies’ games and the men’s wooing attempts and the attendant Moth as a stage manager who assists Boyet, the production eliminates the original play’s side plots in order to focus solely on the lovers. The reality-show concept ultimately heightens not only the comedy in the play but also, through contrast, the somber turn at the play’s end when the Princess learns of her father’s death and the lovers’ unions are delayed by a year.

Set against the backdrop of Carroll Park’s Parkhouse, the doors painted hot pink for the occasion, with blow-up palm trees swaying in the breeze, Smith Street Stage’s production features a cast diverse by every measure, allowing nearly any potential audience member or casual observer walking through the park to find themselves in the play. Moreover, the cast’s stellar performances threw into sharp relief the absurdity of the gender norms the play highlights. For example, the hunt is comically refigured as the ladies’ shooting toy darts at the men’s blown-up headshots. In one of the play’s most famous scenes, in which each man declares he has fallen in love in epically bad poetry and then hides in order to subsequently witness his friends’ declarations, each actor added a unique twist to their performance. Roberto Tolentino as Dumaine, for example, tucked a huge artificial flower behind his ear and sang his poem, accompanying himself on the ukulele.

The actors were attuned to the audience in this small venue, particularly Kristin KP Sgarro as Berowne and Dela Meskienyar as Rosaline, both of whom frequently engaged audience members in order to heighten the comedy. The children in attendance, many seated on the ground in front of the seats, were especially charmed. Moreover, the cast was deft at dealing with other quirks of live performance and working them into the performance seamlessly, such as the wind that occasionally blew around props.

Led by McLean Peterson’s moving performance as the Princess of France, the grief that intrudes into the lovers’ happy celebration and promised unions at the end of the play is real and raw. The somberness of the play’s ending, such a sharp contrast to the comedy that sustains most of it, underscores the performative nature of courtship and its expressions in love poetry. While this ending makes Love’s Labor’s Lost unusual in the genre of Shakespeare’s comedies, most of which end happily with all couples neatly paired up, Smith Street Stage’s production and the range of its actors made it seem the most fitting conclusion to this play.

-Stephanie Pietros


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