American Players Theatre: Love’s Labour’s Lost

Everyone loves the major comedies of William Shakespeare. But they often don’t the credit that they deserve because the plots get convoluted or the humor gets lost in translation into the 21st Century. But not so with the American Players Theatre presentation of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Director Brenda DeVita has pushed Love’s Labour’s Lost from simple comedy to slapstick to farce…and the audience loved it…I don’t remember ever hearing as much laughter…giggles…or titters as those elicited in response to this play.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

And it probably helped that the story here is more direct though not particularly anymore sensible than other Shakespearean comedies…but knowing who the characters are and how they arre expected to act made it all work the more. But DeVita’s wily insertions of cultural touch points like pratfalls and physical comedy reminiscent of ‘professional’ wrestling, some moves that referred back to Steve Martin’s wild and crazy guy and a moment of Hans and Franz style, we want to pump you up, made for easy laughter.

One stand out here…Josh Krause as Dull, the constable…a character to watch as he did his best swaggering Barney Fife and toward just a bit of Charlie Chaplin…a magical character that I imagine would be easy to overlook in other theaters.

And another key yet not out front character is Costard, a groundskeeper, nimbly played by Jeb Burris. At first taken into custody by Dull for flaunting an edict from the King by ‘communing’ with the lovely Jaquenetta, Dull becomes the middle man in much of the plot as the plots transpires! One of his key tasks is to circumvent the king’s edict by secretly delivering missives from the gentlemen of the king’s court to the visiting ladies who are accompanying the Princess of France. And we all knew that hi-jinks were afoot when the stationary for each was a different color…and so they were all mis-delivered. Oafish clumsiness as written or a wily slyness as played by Burris? I am leaning toward the latter!

David Daniel & James Ridge, Love’s Labour’s Lost, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of American Players Theatre.

Other amazing tidbits that build and support the laughter? That would include Nathaniel, a curate played to the hilt by David Daniel as a pompous preening and ever overreaching in his ultimately silly and laughable discourse with Holofernes. And Holofernes allows Shakespeare a chance to take an on target potshot at academics and in that role, James Ridge knows exactly where and how far to stretch to make it just absolutely hilarious.

Marcus Truschinski, Ronald Román-Meléndez, Jamal James & Nate Burger, Love’s Labour’s Lost, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of American Players Theatre

And one of the most popular ‘interludes’ is the attempt by the King and his retinue to fool their French guests by appearing unannounced at the ladies camp in Russian garb and performing a number of ‘Russian dances’…and who can’t love the Russian bear in their company. And the unsurprised ladies make great sport of the gentlemen and put them in their place.

And one other sidebar to mention…Triney Sandoval is just a delight as Don Armando, a knight, professor, and guest in the court of Navarre. And is his mispronunciation of English a result of his inexperience with the language or a bit of word play on his part or that of the bard? It comes across as high comedy in Snadoval’s hands.

Jamal James, Nate Burger, Ronald Román-Meléndez & Marcus Truschinski, Love’s Labour’s Lost, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

And no, I am not ignoring the principals. But in this presentation I think some of the most hilarious bits of the play come from the effective use of the minor and supporting characters…we know whence the King and Princess will go and what they will do.

But yes, I need to mention that Nate Berger was regal and intellectual as the King of Navarre but he wasn’t always too quick to see when his friends were making sport of him or when the Princess of France was getting the better of him. And the Princess of France? Phoebe Gonzalez was everything you expect from a princess and she was one with her retinue and ready to make sport of the King as well as fall in love with him. Amazing.

Jennifer Vosters, Melisa Pereyra, Phoebe González & Samantha Newcomb, Love’s Labour’s Lost, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

And a number of back stage specialists need to be recognized.

There are a ton of situational changes in the story line that require a lot of costume choices and costume changes. So Holly Payne, costume designer, and Jeannette Christensen, assistant costume designer, deserve immense credit for dozens of elegant costumes for all characters and all situations. Their efforts made the story telling here even more magical!! And my hats off to the actors who managed to make numerous changes and keep the flow of the play going.

Triney Sandoval & Matthew Benenson Cruz, Love’s Labour’s Lost, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

And then, again, the amazing work of Brian Cowing, choreographer, and Jeb Burris, fight director, needs to be applauded. The various scenes where characters are dancing…or gesticulating wildly in the presence of unseen others…and the dueling scene between Don Armando and his page Moth…were ballet…enchanting…and smooth as silk.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is being presented in The Hill Theatre and runs in repertory through October 2nd, 2022. If you want more information or want to order tickets, follow this link: LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST

Sidebar: There’s Always Room For Jello

David Daniel, Josh Krause & James Ridge, Love’s Labour’s Lost, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre

[sorry if I overdid the photos]

American Players Theatre: A Raisin In The Sun

De’Anthony Jackson, Charence Higgins, Deanna Reed-Foster, Gavin Lawrence & Gina Daniels. A Raisin in the Sun, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from A Raisin In The Sun. I was familiar with the importance of Lorraine Hansberry as an American playwright, but was embarrassed by my missing knowledge of the play. In retrospect I feel that that missing knowledge served me exceptionally well as the meaning of the play, the nuances, the humor, the tragedy, the racism, the cultural confusion, and the redemption all came across more clearly for me. So with that being said, there are probably going to be some spoilers here in my response to the play…so if you want to go into it fresh you may want to wait until after seeing it to read this. Well except for this BUT:

This is an incredibly meaningful and relevant play…and you shouldn’t miss it. period. Now on with the story.

During the first scenes as we meet the Younger family and get an early rather superficial feel for the family dynamics. It is rather difficult to determine who the prime character is. In many a traditional play, that may fall on Walter Lee Younger Jr., the only adult male in the family. But in this version, driven and directed by Tasia A. Jones, that wouldn’t be correct.

In her notes, Jones states “Though most productions place Walter Lee Younger Jr. at the center of the story because of the depth of his passion, I see two mothers, Ruth and Lena, quietly holding their family together and carrying the weight of the world as they do it.”

he Gina Daniels & Deanna Reed-Foster. A Raisin in the Sun, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

This certainly makes sense too but in her production of A Raisin In the Sun at the American Players Theatre, the focus, the main character is Lena Younger, played by Deanna Reed-Foster who is simply a force of nature in this role! As the family matriarch, Lena actually is the glue that holds the play and the family together. A passionate woman with a solid religious faith, she sees the total environment very clearly. And provides guidance to all through her life experience and vision for the future. And this despite typical family tensions and a number of major family stressors and squabbles and a shocking turn of events. Lena keeps the love of her family at the focus of her decisions and interactions…always…and Reed-Foster is never never in doubt the strongest presence in the family and on the stage.

Gavin Lawrence. A Raisin in the Sun, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

Now back to Jones’ note on Walter Lee Younger Jr. “…at the center of the story because of the depth of his passion”. True, but I don’t feel that his passion was necessarily a positive force for either Walter or the rest of his family. It often seemed to be the root of the stress and turmoil in the family. And as dramatically played by Gavin Lawrence, this is a character that you just can’t find much empathy for even in his final and dramatic redemptive moments in the last act. I just couldn’t find my way to liking Walter.

Deanna Reed-Foster, Charence Higgins & Gina Daniels. A Raisin in the Sun, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

And Charence Higgins, as Beneatha Younger, gives us a picture perfect portrayal of a college aged student…who is searching for herself…sorting out her suitors…seeking her culture and place within it…and pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor despite all of the societal issues that are in her way. You can feel her own passion and her intense searching soul.

Gavin Lawrence & Gina Daniels. A Raisin in the Sun, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

And the other principal character, Ruth Younger, Walter’s long suffering wife, as played by Gina Daniels…is an unfortunately typical housewife plus of the late 1950s to early 1960s. Struggling to raise a ten year old son, support her husband, keep house, and work as a maid to bring in needed income. Ruth suffers from more than a bit of misogyny and indifference from Walter…not because he doesn’t love her…but he is a slave to his passions and the economic realities of the time.

Now on the surface, if simply read, this may seem like a period piece…and some of it is era specific. But there are significant undercurrents that are wholly relevant today. Certainly the pervasive human destruction due to poverty and the continued social and cultural evils that result from continued racism and misogyny. The immediate circumstances are certainly different but the continued results are just the same. And those lesson are something that I brought away from this production that may not have been as apparent if I knew the story ahead of time.

Director Tasia A. Jones is really the power here…taking a play that seems to be placed in the mid-century 20th Century and playing all those aspects to the hilt…while bringing those same issues to the forefront of our own era. A magnificent story telling experience that should not be missed. Thank you!

Gavin Lawrence, De’Anthony Jackson, Gina Daniels, Deanna Reed-Foster & Charence Higgins. A Raisin in the Sun, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

A Raisin In The Sun is being presented in The Hill Theatre and runs in repertory through October 7th, 2022. If you want more information or want to order tickets, follow this link: A RAISIN IN THE SUN

PSA: American Players Theatre 2022 Season: Summer Into Fall!

And this season will be like seasons of yore, as plays will run in repertory all season long. And once again we can glory in the classics at the Hill Theatre and taste some tantalizing new plays at the Touchstone. Here is a brief outline of what lies ahead amongst the trees and prairie, cicadas and swallows, and summer breezes and moon light…and here’s the link to the APTs web information.

At the Hill:

The Rivals

By Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Directed by Aaron Posner

June 11 – September 17

Lydia Languish is bound and determined to marry only for love, a situation that she expects (and hopes) will land her in the poor house. This causes a conundrum for the wealthy Jack Absolute, who is in love with Lydia, but doesn’t meet the requirements of being destitute. So to woo her, Jack takes on the persona of Ensign Beverly, a poor enlisted man. But Lydia’s aunt, Mrs. Malaprop (a literary icon) can never allow such a love connection, setting the couple and their cohort off in a hilarious comedy of manners that APT hits right in the sweet spot.

Jane Austen’s

Sense and Sensibility

Adapted by Jessica Swale

Directed by Marti Lyons

June 17 – October 9

When the well-off Henry Dashwood passes away, his estate, by law, goes to his eldest son, John, leaving Henry’s second wife and three daughters – young Margaret, tempestuous Marianne and reserved Elinor – with no home, and little income. Those are high stakes for women in the early 1800s, and the ladies are forced to rely on the kindness of the good-hearted (and gossipy) Middletons. Though times are hard, the sisters meet many new friends along the way, and soon Marianne and Elinor find that, while love is easy enough to fall into, it can be a hard emotion to negotiate when your family and future are on the line. A charming romance from Jane Austen. Originally slated for the 2020 season.


By William Shakespeare

Directed by James DeVita

June 24 – October 8

Returning home from school after the death of his father and rapid remarriage of his mother to his uncle, Hamlet is pondering his options. Did his uncle, Claudius, murder his father? How much does his mother, Gertrude, know about the perceived crime? How far will the young prince go while investigating, and who will pay the price for what he finds? Family bonds balance on the head of a pin, as the collective father-son relationship pulses through every word; a play that revels in contradictions and defies categorization, last seen at APT in 2013.

A Raisin in the Sun

By Lorraine Hansberry

Directed by Tasia A. Jones

August 5 – October 7

On the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s, the Youngers have lost their patriarch. But with this tragedy comes a rare financial gain for the family – a $10,000 insurance payment that could change their lives and fulfill dreams long postponed. As the family dynamics spin, it soon becomes clear that everyone has different ideas about how the money should be used, causing divisions, dishonesty and mistrust. A stunning classic that examines the ways racism suppresses the lives and aspirations of Black families.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Brenda DeVita

August 12 – October 2

An early Shakespeare comedy returns to our stage for the first time in two decades. The King of Navarre and his three companions, Berowne, Dumaine and Longaville, commit themselves to three years of hard study with no distractions. To firm up his resolve, the King declares that no woman will be allowed within a mile of the court. When a French Princess arrives with her attendants, Rosaline, Maria and Katherine, the men immediately regret their oath in this fun and satisfying summer Shakespeare. Originally slated for the 2020 season.

In the Touchstone:

The River Bride

By Marisela Treviño Orta

Directed by Robert Ramirez

June 17 – September 30

Helena’s feelings about her sister Belmira’s wedding to Duarte are complicated, much like her relationships with both Belmira and Duarte themselves. But Helena’s thoughts are redirected when her father literally fishes a mysterious man out of the Amazonian river, sending everyone’s plans into upheaval in this riveting fable about the complexities of love. Originally slated for the 2020 season.

The Brothers Size

By Tarell Alvin McCraney

Directed by Gavin Lawrence

June 28 – October 8

In the Louisiana bayou, Ogun Size is the hardworking and steady brother to the younger Oshoosi. Ogun worries constantly about his brother, who’s fresh out of jail, restless and aimless. When Elegba, Oshoosi’s old prison-mate arrives with a gift, their relationship is thrown out of balance. Influenced by the rich culture of the Yoruba people of West Africa, this contemporary tale begins in ritual and evolves into a tough and tender drama of what it means to brother and be brothered. Combining flights of poetry, music and dance, The Brothers Size explores the tenuousness of freedom and the need to belong. Originally slated for the 2020 season.

The Moors

By Jen Silverman

Directed by Keira Fromm

August 13 – October 9

A young governess arrives at a remote manor after exchanging semi-romantic correspondence with one mysterious Mr. Branwell. But when the door opens, the only residents of the house seem to be Branwell’s two sisters, a maid (or maybe two maids?) and a lovelorn mastiff. And no man to be found, or child to be cared for. An inspired, whimsical satire that both embraces and sends up the gothic musings of the Brontë sisters; a play the New York Times called “…the reason we go to theater.”

Stones in His Pockets

By Marie Jones

Directed by Tim Ocel

October 27 – November 20

Two down-on-their-luck men in a down-on-its-luck Irish town are given what they hope is a chance at the good life. Jake and Charlie have been cast as extras in a Hollywood movie – a shaft of light through the clouds of their dreary rural existence. Like most sets, this one is rife with drama on stage and off – some hilarious and some heartbreaking – as the American cast and crew try to immerse themselves in Jake and Charlie’s culture, and vice-versa. A two-hander with each actor playing multiple characters in this unique and enthralling tragicomedy. Originally slated for the 2020 season.

Tickets on sale to returning patrons March 21.
On sale to the general public May 2.

AND: most of the other amenities we have grown to appreciate will be returning this season as well: picnic offerings, play talks, tours, art in the woods, and more! Information on opportunities to enhance your play attendance and opportunities to enjoy the other APT events!

This is going to be an exciting and challenging season to experience…and I am so looking forward to it!