The Bard Gets Down With Brown in Love’s Labor’s Lost

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Nitya Vidyasagar as Jaquenetta, ensemble member James Rana and sitar player Brian Q (Stan Barouh).

The universality of Shakespeare’s themes allow his plays to take place in settings as varied as Nazi Germany and gang-ridden Los Angeles. And for two weeks in Washington, D.C., The Shakespeare Theatre Company Free For All has taken the Bard and his audience to a tripped-out version of India with a delightful and exuberant staging of the comedy Love’s Labor’s Lost. The production is the company’s contribution to the 6-month long Shakespeare in Washington Festival; you have until Sunday to see the play at D.C.’s Carter Barron Amphitheater. The outdoor setting is perfect for this show, as a more stodgy environment would have taken away from this irreverent spin on Shakespeare’s work.

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Mauricio Tafur Salgado as Longaville and Hank Stratton as Berowne with (background) Rock Kohli as Anthony Dull (Stan Barouh).

Full of witty and insightful verse, Love’s Labor’s Lost finds the King of Navarre and three lords renouncing worldly pleasures (particularly women) and adopting a life of austere academic pursuit. Typical Shakespearean zaniness ensues when the men’s oaths come to an end with the arrival of the Princess of France and her three ladies. Realizing that a life is nothing without love, the men resolve to win the ladies, only to be snubbed. The production, directed by Stephen Fried, adds a twist by portraying the three lords as a 1960s hippie rock band visiting the ashram of the Maharishi-like King.

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Amir Arison as the King of Navarre and Michael Milligan as Costard (Stan Barouh).

All of the leads, including Sabrina Le Beauf (Sondra on The Cosby Show), give strong performances with the support of a talented group of character actors, highlighted by Michael Milligan’s stoner portrayal of the servant Costard. Thankfully, the company was smart enough to realize that it might be a good idea to cast some desi actors since the play is set in India. Amir Arison draws more than a few laughs as the King of Navarre. Nick Choksi, Rock Kohli and Nitya Vidyasagar provide levity with their amusing portrayals of the servant Moth, the constable Dull and the curvaceous maid Jaquenetta. The Indian accents could have been much better, but this was troublesome only to the South Asians in the audience. In the end, they had no negative impact because the bad accents only added to the campy atmosphere of the production.

This charming play runs only through Sunday, so if you’re in the D.C. area, there is still time to see it this weekend. Tickets are free and available at various locations on a first-come, first-served basis. Visit the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Web site for ticket information. The DCist also put together a list of useful tips to avoid undue hassles.

June 1, 2007
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