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Love’s Labors Lost
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tom Ridgely
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
May 31, 2019

Bradley James Tejeda, Kea Trevett, Sky Smith, Laura Sohn
Photo by Philip Hamer
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

It may be over 400 years old, but as staged this year by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis in their usual outdoor setting in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen, Love’s Labors Lost may as well have been written for this venue. With an inventive set, crisp staging, and ideal casting, this show provides more than a simple outdoor entertainment. It’s energetic, it’s musical, it’s a conversation starter, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

As usual, the first thing that’s obvious in this year’s SFSTL production is its set, this time designed by Jason Simms and managing to be remarkably versatile and striking while blending into the surrounding setting at the same time. The set represents the estate of the King of Navarre (Sky Smith), who along with his friends, students Longueville (Sam Jones), DuMaine (Riz Moe), and Biron (Bradley James Tejeda) makes a bold vow to devote himself to study for three years, shunning worldly pleasures and, especially, the company of women. This plan is soon challenged by the arrival of a delegation from the King of France, led by his daughter the Princess (Kea Trevett) and her attending ladies Maria (Vivienne Claire Luthin), Catherine (Kiah McKirnan), and Rosaline (Laura Sohn), who predictably attract the attentions of the men, who proceed to court the women in increasingly bombastic ways. Meanwhile, the Spanish soldier Don Armado (Philip Hernández) arrives, attended by his witty pageboy Moth (Naima Randolph) and immediately falls in love with local country girl Jaquenetta (Molly Meyer), who has also attracted the attentions of rustic local Costard (Patrick Blindauer). Basically, the story involves a series of romantic misadventures, as well as the concurring efforts of several locals including self-important academic Holofernes (Carine Montbertrand) and local priest Nathaniel (Katy Keating), along with Costard and others, to put on a play for the King and his visitors.

The play, one of Shakespeare’s earliest, isn’t incredibly plot-heavy and relies on a lot of witty banter and the relationships between the characters to make it interesting, and this production makes the most of that banter and the larger-than-life characters, as well as an atmospheric, melodic musical soundtrack provided onstage by the Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra along with the cast members themselves, particularly Blindauer who demonstrates a strong singing voice along with excellent comic timing in his role as Costard. The casting across the board is especially ideal, with everyone doing an excellent job but with particular standouts including Hernández as the bombastic Armado, making an excellent team with the equally superb Randolph as the clever, witty Moth. Tejeda and Sohn are also first-rate in their superb chemistry and witty banter as Biron and Rosaline, along with strong performances from Smith and Trevett as an also well-matched King and Princess. There’s also excellent support from Jeffrey Cummings as the Princess’s adviser Boyet, and fun comic turns from Montbertrand and Keating as the pompous and bumbling Holofernes and Nathaniel. It’s an exceptionally strong cast all around, with a great deal of energy and presence, and director Tom Ridgely’s fast-paced staging serves the production, the characters, and the broad comic tone especially well.

In addition to the excellent set, the other technical aspects of the production are equally stunning. The setting, which mostly seems to be in the early 20th Century era, is further spelled out via the colorful and meticulously detailed costumes by Melissa Trn. There’s also dazzling lighting by John Wylie and excellent sound by Rusty Wandall. The world of the play is brought into Forest Park with whimsical wonder.

Love’s Labors Lost is a remarkable effort for SFSTL. It has romance, charm, wit, humor, and a whimsical tone. It’s one of the most successful shows I’ve seen from the Festival in terms of integrating the play into its space. It’s a delightful production.

 

Philip Hernández, Naima Randolph
Photo by Philip Hamer
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is presenting Love’s Labors Lost in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen until June 23, 2019

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The Winter’s Tale
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Bruce Longworth
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
June 2, 2017

Chauncy Thomas, Cherie Corinne Rice (Left), Charles Pasternak (Right) and cast of The Winter’s Tale
Photo by J. David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

It’s time to return to Forest Park again, for the latest production from Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. This year, the show is The Winter’s Tale,  the Bard’s somewhat mysterious tragedy/comedy/mystery/romance, and it’s in good hands, with veteran director Bruce Longworth, a strong cast, and stunning production values which contribute to a fascinating dramatic journey in SFSTL’s Shakespeare Glen.

This is an unusual play, and one of Shakespeare’s more controversial considering the major tone shift that happens in the middle, and the inexplicable actions of some of the characters. It’s a fascinating story especially when staged well, and it is here. The Winter’s Tale starts out somewhat light-heartedly but then plunges quickly into the drama, and then into tragedy, before transforming itself again into more of a comic romance with a somewhat mysterious ending. The “tale” follows Leontes (Charles Pasternak), the king of Sicilia, who is happily married to Hermione (Cherie Corinne Rice), who is expecting their second child. When their friend, Polixenes King of Bohemia (Chauncy Thomas) wants to cut short his visit and Hermione convinces him to stay, Leontes’ is suddenly plagued by irrational, raging jealousy, convinced that his wife has betrayed him and that her unborn child was fathered by his friend. This leads to a chain of events that involves murder plots, self-exile, accusations, and death. Then there’s the intermission, and we come back to a pastoral romantic comedy sixteen years later as Leontes’ exiled daughter Perdita (Cassia Thompson), who has been raised by a bumbling Shepherd (Whit Reichert) and his even more bumbling son (Antonio Rodriguez), is romanced by Polixenes’s son Florizel (Pete Winfrey), who hasn’t told Perdita who he is, nor has he told his father who he’s romancing.  At first, it isn’t entirely clear how the two sections of the play will be tied together, but eventually they are, in a grand, fantastical fashion orchestrated by Hermione’s wise, protective gentlewoman Paulina (Rachel Christopher).

This is a fascinating play, and the tone-shift is part of what makes it so interesting. The blend of tragedy, comedy, and romance is somewhat jarring, but this production makes the most of it. The music by Matt Pace and Brien Seyle contributes a great deal to the mood, with a more classical chamber-music type vibe in Sicilia and more folky, rustic air in Bohemia. The look of production is striking, as well, with richly detailed costumes by Dottie Marshall Englis that seem to be in a late-18th, early-19th Century style. Scott C. Neale’s versatile unit set shifts well from setting to setting, and there are some excellent effects from lighting designer John Wylie and sound designer Rusty Wandall. The overall pacing is brisk without being too hurried, and all the right tonal notes are met, from the poignant to the jarring to the whimsical.

The casting here, as usual for SFSTL, is strong, and features some welcome returning players, including the excellent Pasternak as the jealous Leontes, whose journey from irrational rage to contrition is made credible. Rice is also strong as the wronged Hermione, and there is excellent work from all of the key players, including Winfrey and Thompson, who display a sweet chemistry as the lovers Florizel and Perdita. There’s good comic work from Reichert and Rodriguez as the Shepherd and his son, and a wonderful comic turn by Gary Glasgow as the scheming, opportunistic con artist, Autolycus. Thompson as Polixenes and Anderson Matthews as the loyal courtier Camillo also give strong performances, as does Michael James Reed as the earnest Antigonus, Paulina’s husband and the unfortunate victim of Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction (“Exit, pursued by a bear”). Christopher, as Paulina, is a real standout in a strong, powerful performance as the protective, somewhat mysterious Paulina. There’s also a strong ensemble lending excellent support to the principal cast.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is one of the highlights of June in St. Louis. Free Shakespeare done with such expertise and style is always a treat, and The Winter’s Tale is another prime example of this company’s excellence. It’s a thoughtful, engaging, superbly staged and performed production, and I highly recommend it. I’m looking forward to next year in the Glen as well, when SFSTL will present the Bard’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet.

 

Pete Winfrey, Whit Reichert, Cassia Thompson
Photo by J. David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is presenting The Winter’s Tale in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen until June 25, 2017

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