Gregory Maupin, Justin Jackson, & Tajleed Hardy in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Photo: Zachary Burrell

Love’s Labour’s Lost

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Matt Wallace

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

I have long thought Love’s Labour’s Lost was one of the most underrated of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies. A delightful satire of not just love but masculinity and the male ego when confronted with it. It eventually settles into a warm appreciation of the human connection.

Much to my surprise, Matt Wallace’s setting of an American resort in the 1950s works very well. Kingdoms become corporations and if the parallel is stretched it is only by degrees. American exceptionalism may not have been born in the middle of the 20th century, but it certainly grew to a new level that coincides with the rise of mass media.

So when Navarre (Braden McCampbell) and his three associates, Longaville (Justin Jackson), Dumain (Tajleed Hardy), and Berowne (Gregory Maupin) all take a vow to devote themselves to three years of study, fasting and forsaking the company of women, beyond the monastic discipline of the task, it can also be seen as a testament to the arrogance of the period.

Yet the bright and funny plot is never weighed down by such ideas. So when Princess (Ashley Nicole Cabrera) arrives with her posse, Maria (Sarah Chen Elston), Katherine (Nyazia Martin), and Rosaline (Abigail Bailey Maupin) expecting Navarre’s hospitality and testing the four men’s resolve, the breakdown of social custom is swift and hilarious.

Alongside this quartet of pending romance, we witness a romantic triangle between Don Armadoff (Brian Hinds), Costard (Tony Reimonenq III), and Jacquenetta (Mollie Murk)

Aside from the text, there is also the consideration of the casting. Gregory and Abigail Maupin are a bit older than most Berownes and Rosalines you may encounter, but their reputation and popularity in this community make sense as a marketing measure, and who will deny this couple their shot at the one Shakespeare romance they have yet to tackle?

It also helps that the production offers no pretense about the two character’s age. Berowne enters looking not like the dashing lead of a 1950s melodrama but the boss they might answer to. Gregory Maupin has a history of sporting facial hair, wigs, and hats, yet here he is so closely shorn as to appear nearly dull (conversely, the character Dull sports the best beard of the night). At the same time, Abigail never indulges in girlishness and exhibits gray in her hair. All of this seems designed to avoid distraction and simply allow them the opportunity to play the hell out of the text. 

That they certainly do. Louisville is gifted with a host of good Shakespearean actors, and the Maupins have always been somewhere at the top of that pyramid. To see Gregory bring Berowne’s clever dialogue to life from within the gray suit and spectacles of 50s conformity injects his scenes with an extra thrill. In the 2nd act scene during which each of the four men is caught in turn expressing their feelings for one of the women, Berowne’s harsh admonishment of his comrade’s “weakness” includes a series of movements that are worthy of John Cleese and the Ministry of Silly Walks. 

Abigail’s Rosaline is likewise subdued in fashion, surrounded by a sorority of color and pattern. Within Wallace’s concept, she comes off as resolutely sensible and reproving but with a sly sense of mischief. It is she who rallies the other three to trap the men inside of their own foolishness, and nobody does sly mischief better than Abigail Maupin.

Ashley Nicole Cabrera, Abigail Bailey Maupin, & Nyzaia Martin in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Photo: Zachary Burrell

Their cohorts are well-essayed, but I couldn’t help but feel that the men come off better. In showing the women to be not at all confused and highly confident, they also are somewhat robbed of the opportunity to showcase the vulnerability and eccentricity that the deconstruction of masculine ego provides the men. Shakespeare gives them the upper hand but leaves them slightly less interesting. Still, the performances are good and the intention is clear. And Tajleed Hardy has a moment with a teddy bear you won’t soon forget.

They are given fine support from an estimable ensemble. Brian Hinds knows how to get inside of Shakespeare’s clowns and bring them to a highly individual and colorful life. He is well-paired with Neill Robertson’s Moth and their early scenes together are small masterpieces of droll humor.

Jennifer Pennington is their equal as Holfernes, with Nick Wills in tow as Nathaniel, and Tony Reimonenq III brings a lot of flash and moxy as Costard, and is given the opportunity to practically steal the show leading two doo-wop numbers in the finale. His style is all Rat Pack cool and show biz pizazz.

Dull is certainly a contrast after playing Macbeth, but Zac Campbell-Hoogendyk has fun carrying less weight. And after so many thoughtful gender-bending performances, Mollie Murk enjoys playing Jacquenetta as a woman with a healthy sexual appetite with nary a whiff of the bawdy wench or “slut” that is often the easy path for these characters. In fact, she seems nearly wholesome in her 50′ party dress. Donna Lawrence Downs must have had a blast costuming this show, and I would gladly steal some of these casual untucked panel shirts. Jon Huffman’s linen summer suit is especially appealing (I hope he gets to keep it), while Karl Anderson’s scenic design features a 50s atomic starburst motif to bring home the pop culture signifiers of the “safest” of the 20th century decades.

This Love’s Labour’s Lost is a hoot. A lean and economical cutting of the text is rendered by Wallace and company with a swift pace and enough high spirits to deliver a rollicking yet thoughtful evening’s entertainment. You will enjoy the slapstick, the wit, and the men’s comeuppance, but if you allow yourself to discover it, there is plenty of satirical commentary mixed in with the rom-com hijinks.

As will happen with outdoor theatre, the performance I attended on July 1 was suspended at 9:20 pm after a lightning strike in the area. The rain hadn’t yet arrived, but the steel trusses holding the lighting grid and the fact that each actor was wearing a battery pack for their wireless microphones made for a dangerous situation. A rain-out the following evening meant I was unable to watch the rest of the show until July 5.

Featuring Ashley Nicole Cabrera, Zac Campbell-Hoogendyk, Sarah Chen Elsten, Tajleed Hardy, Brian Hinds, Jon Huffman, Justin Jackson, Nyazia Martin, Abigail Bailey Maupin, Gregory Maupin, Braden McCampbell, Mollie Murk, Jennifer Pennington, Tony Reimonenq III, Neil Robertson, & Nick Wills  

Love’s Labour’s Lost

June 29-July 9; July 13, 16, 20, 23, 2023 

Shakespeare Festival in Central Park
C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater
1340 S. Fourth St.
Louisville, KY 40208
(502) 574-990

Admission is free. Everyone is welcome, including pets.
Food trucks open at 6:30 pm; Will’s Tavern begins serving at 7:00 pm
Pre-Show begins at 7:15 pm, with main stage production at 8:00 pm

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM /, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for