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King Ferdinand (Deng-Tung Wang) woos the Princess of France (Emily Taradash).

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The MIT Shakespeare Ensemble put on their production of Love’s Labour’s Lost on March 19–22 in La Sala de Puerto Rico, directed by Liz Adams. Despite the challenges of performing one of Shakespeare’s more esoteric plays, the Ensemble executed it with both talent and enthusiasm.

Love’s Labour’s Lost opens with King Ferdinand, played by Deng-Tung Wang, and his entourage of Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine (Stephanie Cheng ‘15, Phil Arevalo G, and Peter Duerst ‘18), signing a written vow to devote the next three years of their lives to intensive scholarship, which limits them to an ascetic lifestyle consisting of six meals a week, three hours of sleep a night, and most notably, no interacting with women. Bearing these terms in mind, the shift from 16th-century Spain to what appears to be modern MIT seems rather pointed. It’s almost a wonder that the term of the contract wasn’t rewritten to “four years, and an optional fifth for engineering studies.”

As one might expect, the high-minded intentions of Ferdinand’s contract promptly implode before the first scene is over, as the canny Berowne reminds the king that the Princess of France, played by Emily Taradash, is shortly due to visit the court with her own entourage of Rosaline, Katherine, and Maria, played by Amelia Smith ‘17, Swati Kataria G, and Natalia Musatova. It isn’t long before the four men are lovestruck by the four women, contrary to the terms of their oath; one of the funniest scenes in the show sees them enter one by one to secretly proclaim out loud how much in love they are, not knowing that they are being overheard by those that preceded them, in hiding nearby. Each of the men reveals himself in turn to point an accusing finger and declare that no, he would never do something so crass as fall in love and break his contract, culminating in a collective realization that being high and mighty is silly and that they may as well acknowledge — at least amongst themselves — that they’ve no hope to living up to their unreasonable, self-imposed standards. Of course, they have no intention of admitting that to the women they’re in love with. Thus the hijinks continue.

I found the romantic plotline between the King’s gentlemen and the Princess’s ladies to be the most entertaining and interesting component to the show; it’s fairly familiar ground for fans of Shakespeare’s comedies, and given that the narrative arc of Love’s Labour’s Lost doesn’t stretch as far as some of Shakespeare’s other plays, the screwball antics of the eight romantic leads provides most of the meat. Of the four men, Stephanie Cheng as Berowne receives the most narrative focus, and her energetic performance as a rational and clever character grappling with the not-always-rational emotion of love is nothing short of exceptional. Among the peripheral characters, the highlights for me were Tal Scully ‘18 as Boyet, one of the Princess’s attendants with a mind for mischief at Ferdinand’s court’s expense, and Hatem Adell as Costard, an overall-clad mustachioed peasant with a talent for making suspiciously phallic balloon figures.

As much as I enjoyed the show, some of the changes made to this production were a mixed bag that could be at times confusing for me as an audience member. On the one hand, the updated setting made way for amusing moments like Maria’s selfies with the Princess and Dumaine’s love song written to Katherine, which is the most heavy metal treatment I’ve ever seen given to a ukelele. Literally on the other hand, the characters of Holofernes and Anthony Dull were consolidated into the single performer, Howard Bernstein and Howard Bernstein’s Forearm; Dull was portrayed by a sock puppet, a well-executed performance that nevertheless left the characters’ already convoluted conversations difficult to follow.

Despite the headscratching, I enjoyed Love’s Labour’s Lost, particularly the familiarity of its romantic character interactions, and I look forward to seeing what unconventionalities the Shakespeare Ensemble puts forth next.