Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Director Vivienne Benesch has taken William Shakespeare's early comedy out of the countryside and into the world of the library; the time is the 1930s (the library opened in 1932). The play is less about plot and more about wordplay and romantic games, which fits with Benesch's screwball-comedy take on the material.
The youthful King of Navarre (Joshua David Robinson) has invited three of his friendsBerowne (Zachary Fine), Longaville (Matt Dallal), and Dumaine (Jack Schmitt)to join him in a retreat from the pleasures of the world. For the next three years, they will live in monastic seclusion, devoting themselves to learning and a deeper awareness of life. Then the Princess of France (Amelia Pedlow) arrives on a state visit with three attendants, and the men's resolve soon crumbles.
Fine is a charmer as Berowne, whose mild cynicism foreshadows such characters as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, and he is well matched with self-possessed Kelsey Rainwater as the princess' attendant Rosaline. Robinson is smoothly confident as the king, determined to turn his court into a famous seat of knowledge, and Pedlow brings low-key charm to the Princess.
While the four main couples try to navigate the perils of love and learning (with the occasional tickle fight or giggly confidences), Benesch brings out the larger-than-life qualities of the supporting characters. First is Tonya Beckman, delightful as both a hot-blooded serving maid and the Princess' circumspect advisor Boyet; Eric Hissom as the effusive Spanish nobleman Don Armado, doing everything but climbing the scenery while speaking in a broad accent; Louis Butelli and Susan Rome as a pedant and a librarian; and Edmund Lewis as Costard, a plain-spoken workman.
The other main attraction is Tracy Christensen's luscious period costumes. From the Princess' white bias-cut dress and matching fur-trimmed coat to the men's sharp suits, Boyet's tailored outfit, the court ladies' fringed evening gowns and even Costard's tool belt, it's an idealized dream of the era.