Saturday, September 22, 2012

Love's Labour's Lost at the Blackfriars and The Lyric in Blacksburg

Stephanie Holladay Earl as the Princess of France and 
Patrick Midgley as Navarre in Love's Labour's Lost
Photo by Michael Bailey.
I had the pleasure of seeing performances of Love's Labour's Lost at the Blackfriars Playhouse and at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg for the first show of the Tempt Me Further Tour. I had not read or seen Love's Labour's Lost before (I've tried to watch Branagh's horrible musical version of it a few times, but have not managed to get past the first five minutes), so I was quite unfamiliar with the play, but this production is very accessible and entertaining.

ASC veteran and fan favorite Patrick Midgley opens his first tour as the King of Navarre, leading a band of lords (Berowne: Patrick Earl, Dumaine: David Millstone, Longaville: Jake Daly) who form a sort of "He-Man Woman Haters Club," swearing off women to devote their time to study. The Lords have varying degrees of commitment to this idea, with Patrick Earl's Berowne being the most humorously opposed to it. Perchance, the Princess of France (played by the elegant Stephanie Holladay Earl), who just so happens to have an equal number of Ladies (Rosaline: Lexie Helgerson, Katharine: Bridget Rue, Maria: Molly Gilman) attending her, arrive in Navarre and the King and his men fall head over heels immediately. The ladies are attended by Lord Boyet, played brilliantly as a butler by Seth McNeill. Midgley, who is excellent in comedic roles, is terrific in the production and it's evident he has some fun wearing that white suit. Patrick Earl is equally adept as the love stricken and hilarious Berowne.

Rick Blunt as Don Armado in Love's Labour's Lost
Photo by Michael Bailey.
Meanwhile, we are joined by the ridiculously comical Don Adriano de Armado of Spain and his page Moth. Rick Blunt plays Armado to the hilt, complete with an absurd accent and blustering mannerisms. Blunt uses all of his boundless comic abilities and energies to steal the show and have the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. Stephanie Earl, pulling double duty, is amazingly convincing playing the male Moth and as typical of the past two troupes she plays a great smart aleck foil to Blunt's blustering fools. Speaking of blustering fools, Andrew Goldwasser's Costard is another foil for Don Armado (and several others) and would be a good candidate for the US Postal Service with his love letter delivery mix-ups.

Bridget Rue plays the slatternly Jaquenetta with her typically excellent clownery. Jake Daly brings the house down with his snuff dipping, country boy Forester. David Millstone, borrowing from his stuffy Malvolio in Twelfth Night, is great as the stuffed shirt academic Holofernes. Lexi Helgerson pulls double duty as the skittish, concerned priest Sir Nathaniel, the sidekick of Holofernes. Seth McNeill shows his comedic chops as the foolish Constable Dull, a definite close relation to Dogberry.

The show at the Lyric was well-attended, probably around 300. I sat on stage, which was a very up-close experience as the stage is tiny, probably a third of the size as the Blackfriars. Like the other shows in this season, the music is outstanding. One highlight is Patrick Earl and Seth McNeill performing "More than Words" with Patrick Midgley providing an accompanying gesture that I will not spoil.

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