Love’s Labour’s Lost; directed by Dan Swern for Shake and Bake Theatre, New York City, New York, 22 Dec 2018.
Reviewed by Kelsey Ridge (University of Birmingham)
Shake and Bake’s Off-Broadway production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, staged in the round, is not what anyone would think of as “Shakespeare how it’s meant to be done.” It also turns a play that can easily feel like a chore into a thoroughly enjoyable night at the theatre.
The production style is unique. It is odd enough that one must want to be there, but it is eminently worth it. Shake and Bake, co-founded by Victoria Rae Sook and Dan Swern with David Goldman, cuts the text down to a tight two hours, adds a series of musical and dance breaks, and even manages to feed you.
The most transparent cut to make their time-frame is the removal of Dumaine and Katherine. The production manages this major excision without leaving gaping wounds. Some of the servants disappear as well, removing most though not all of the textual elements related to them. The company also merges a few characters. Rami Margron’s Costard, which merges Costard and Moth, is delightful and an audience favorite. The play’s otherwise downer ending is soothed by the company’s swift proffer of desert items to the audience – not a bad addition, in my opinion.
One may never have thought a situation called for earnest acoustic covers of numbers like “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne. Still, Darren Ritchie and David Seamon’s original music brings tremendous whimsy to the show. Although an audience member might have to be on the millennial-side to get all the musical in-jokes, like the Princess of France (Victoria Rae Sook) and her company being introduced with “Royals” by Lorde, it is all in good fun.
Their eight-course set menu ties the food to the moments in the show when the actors serve it to you. (If you find yourself wondering where the Cheeto Dusted Mac n’ Cheese comes into Shakespeare’s text, do not worry; their tying it in is one of the production’s most amusing and memorable set pieces.) While their main set menu involves meat and fish, audience members can also purchase a vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free ticket. Fair warning: the deer-hunting scene is accompanied by a shot of Jägermeister, which a member of my group was not prepared for. If you’re particularly hungry, the eight courses may not be enough food, but the food is delicious, served by friendly actors, and prepared in full view of the audience.
While my party enjoyed the show, it is not for everyone. As the production is staged in the round, one can see other audience member’s reactions. I can only assume that the people across me had been invited by friends or given tickets as a gift. They refused to participate in the spirit of the show and seemed to refuse to be amused. No one should feel obligated to kiss an actor on the cheek or even to hi-five an actor if one does not want to, but if an actor asks you a question, it might be the appropriate response is to respond. If you prefer shows with the fourth-wall firmly intact, this is not the night out for you.
This dinner-theatre Shakespeare is certainly a unique experience; it is also a raring good time. The actors approach their rolls with gusto, and the concept is strong and fresh. I look forward to seeing what Shake and Bake comes out with next.
The views expressed in this post are the author’s own.
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