Groovy Kinda Love

Michael Kahn provides Shakespeare with psychedelic swirl of tie-dyed ecstasy, while Woolly enters a mysterious lounge

Summer is here in a glowing orange crush of sun, surf, and… Shakespeare? That’s right, Michael Kahn blends the Beatles with the Bard in a fruity, fizzy new production of Love’s Labor’s Lost. Sixteenth-century England meets 1960s American pop culture in a psychedelic swirl of groovy tunes and tie-dyed ecstasy, as Kahn envisions the King of Navarre as an ultra-hippy guru and the three lords under his tutelage as members of Plexiglass, a peppy pop-rock band stuck somewhere between the Monkees and the Rolling Stones.

With the colorful beachfront set, replete with Thai-inspired architecture and a blazing set of footlights, it looks like Toucan Sam exploded onstage. That visual riot is where we meet our mischief-prone merrymakers as they vow to bury their heads in books and renounce all women for the next three years. Ah, but what to do when the hot, young Princess of France arrives, with three gorgeous ladies in tow? Why, move to wooing, of course. Love waits for no one.


Suddenly William Shakespeare is host of the best party of the summer, and recent Tony-winner Catherine Zuber ensures that all of his guests are stunning in a wardrobe of funky, impossibly delicious couture. It could be argued that the exceptionally hip aesthetics of Love’s Labor’s Lost practically steal the show, but don’t mistake Kahn’s delightful demonstration of Ringo-meets-Maharishi as mere facelift folly.

Kahn dives deep into the well of the women’s lib movement, resurfacing with significant parallels between the stifled sisters of Shakespearean society and the emerging gender revolution of the 1960s. Here the fashionable court of damsels may wear miniskirts and roll in on Vespas, but they are still independent ladies who aren’t afraid to scorn their suitors or reject a rushed engagement.


Love’s Labor’s Lost
To July 30
Shakespeare Theatre Company
$14.25-$71.25
202-547-1122
www.shakespearetheatre.org

Kahn has always realized the value in musical accompaniment, and this occasion proves no exception, with bubbly pop numbers for Shakespeare’s sonnets composed by Adam Wernick. The play is also one of the rare, truly ”ensemble” pieces in the Shakespeare canon, where the focus consistently shifts among a central quartet and a round of fascinating peripheral characters. Here Kahn’s cast delights with flawless performances from each and every actor, from stage veterans Ted van Griethuysen and Floyd King to Amir Arison’s charming King Ferdinand. Even Rock Kohli’s Dull and Nick Choksi’s Moth are amusing in tiny, droll parts.

As the evening’s Don Adriano de Armado, Geraint Wyn Davies is just as endearing as he was two summers ago as a sublime Cyrano. He’s joined by Claire Lautier as the primped princess who hunts with a bow and arrow. And while Michael Milligan’s trippy Costard is always lit up, the real bright spots in Kahn’s luminous cast are the six lovers who create sparks on stage.

Hank Stratton, Aubrey Deeker and Erik Steele are the limber, head-bobbing lads of Plexiglass. They’re terrifically matched with lasses Sabrina LeBeauf, Colleen Delany and Angela Pierce in a production that invites the audience to indulge their whims and have a little retro-chic fun. Lusciously stylized, Kahn’s Love’s Labor’s Lost is the perfect summertime treat.


In ”an ugly small suburb in an ugly small town somewhere in the middle of the United States of America,” there is a faculty room. Not just any faculty room, mind you, but Bridget Carpenter’s The Faculty Room, a mysterious and mundane teacher’s lounge among the halls of Madison-Feurey High.


The Faculty Room
To July 9
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
$30-$48
202-393-3939
www.woollymammoth.net

The visitors in Carpenter’s lounge engage in all sorts of inappropriate behavior. With each other. With their students. With their pasts. And while the teachers blaze up and toss confiscated weapons down a metal drop box, Carpenter attempts to illuminate the relationships between student and teacher, teacher and teacher, and teacher and life in a series of scenes that unravel as a classic character drama.

Michael Russotto is Carver Durand, the new gay history teacher on campus. He visits the faculty room every day, a place inhabited only by fellow teachers Zoe Bartholemew (Megan Anderson) and Adam Younger (Ethan T. Bowen). Adam and Zoe have a turbulent past together, characterized by Adam’s ”profound, besotted love” for Zoe. It could be your standard fodder for network television, and Carpenter’s dialogue does have a certain camera-ready feel to it, but what begins as a slow, absorbing piece of theater culminates into an bizarre, indigestible episode.

Adam’s students are preoccupied with a religious novel on the coming ”Rapture,” obsessing over every detail and asking for assignments specifically related to their extracurricular reading. An English lit teacher, Adam is all too happy to oblige, indulging the young girls in his newly-minted book club by following along with the cult-frenzy series. Never mind that some of the students are starving themselves or bleeding from self-mutilation, Carpenter’s egocentric educators are too wrapped up in their own unhealthy passions to bother with the personal lives of their pupils.

Though they’re a mess of unlovable, prickly people, Carpenter lends enough information to her characters that you actually grow to care about them. Russotto’s emotions are authentic under Howard Shalwitz’s straightforward direction, but Anderson’s Zoe radiates an overcooked, affected air that is as thick as a layer of Visqueen. We never get close enough to a revelation to believe Carpenter’s outrageous finale, a sudden, hapless conclusion to an already unlikely story. Carpenter’s writing skills are rendered impotent in portraying a realistic account of life in an average American high school, which seems a pity since she never seems to lack inspiration — or humor.

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