Credit: Brittany Diliberto

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The rarely staged comedy Love’s Labor’s Lost concerns a different sort of deprivation than The Children: The King of Navarre and three of his loyal confederates take a vow to immerse themselves in study for three years, abjuring the company of women, taking only one meal per day, and sleeping but three hours each night. Their pledge is exceedingly ill-timed, as the king is obliged to receive the visiting Princess of France and her courtiers, a duty he has forgotten. 

Predictably, the arrival of the ladies tests the fellows’ resolve, with some misdelivered love letters adding a layer of screwball confusion to the mix. Love’s is Shakespeare’s rhymiest play and one of his earliest, with the poet himself coming off as a little drunk on his own emerging gifts. That sheer zeal, and an ending more compatible with modern thinking than the serial weddings that conclude his later, more philosophically astute comedies, would be reason enough to spin this deep cut more often.

Director Vivienne Benesch has imagined her Love’s Labor’s Lost as what you might call a site-specific piece, working with scenic designer Lee Savage to make the Folger’s Elizabethan Theatre into a replica of the Folger Library Reading Room, just a few dozen feet west of the stage. (We even see a recreation of the U.S. Capitol through an open door.)  She’s also set the play in the early 1930s, when the Folger Library opened. This decision gives license to costume designer Tracy Christensen to put the women of the court in flapper dresses and furs and hats with veils, while the dudes get wide-lapeled three-piece suits, striped silk pajamas, and white-jacketed tuxedos. 

Though Eric Hissom (as Don Armado, a “fantastical Spaniard” soldier), Louis Butelli (as the schoolmaster Holofernes) and Tonya Beckman (as both an attendant to the princess and the servant Armado falls for) are all strong comic players who’ve worked at the Folger a lot, the presence of some lesser seen actors in the key romantic roles brings a welcome sense of buoyancy and renewal. As the princess and the king, respectively, Amelia Pedlow and Joshua David Robinson temper their beauty and mutual longing with sobriety. Zachary Fine’s performance as Berowne, the king’s right hand, who bemoans his vow of chastity and hunger as “flat treason ’gainst the kingly state of youth,” is the company’s other standout. Abstinence-only education has seldom been as sexy as this.

To June 16 at 201 East Capitol St. SE. $42–$85. (202) 544-7077. folger.edu.