Stealing from one Shakespeare play to improve another

Steve Epp and Nathan Keepers on the set.
Steve Epp and Nathan Keepers on the set of "Love's Labor's Lost" at the Lab Theater in Minneapolis.
Euan Kerr / MPR News

Many great artists over the years have said if you are going to steal, steal from the best.

The Minneapolis-based Moving Company is doing just that for its new production of Shakespeare's "Love's Labor's Lost," a play that explores love, and its consequences.

Take this exchange from the characters Armando and Moth as they contemplate Armando's recent romantic misadventures.

"The sundry contemplation of my travels," says Armando, "which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous..."

They both giggle until he finishes his thought with, "...sadness." Then they groan.

The scene might strike anyone who knows Shakespeare's work as confusing. The lines are from the playwright's later work, "As You Like It." In fact, the Moving Company's adaptation of "Love's Labor's Lost," sets aside much of the original play.

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"We gutted it," director Dominique Serrand said.

The Moving Company premiered the production in Louisville in September. Its members will present the show to a Minnesotan audience on Friday, when it opens at the Lab Theater in the Warehouse District in Minneapolis.

As the core of the Moving Company, Serrand and actors Steve Epp and Nathan Keepers are quite open with what they have done to Shakespeare.

They like the characters and the plot of "Love's Labor's Lost," in which a defeated king retreats with his troops, swearing off love forever. A princess then arrives with an entourage of women to negotiate a peace treaty.

"You know, hormones and the heart take over," said Epp. "And that's kind of it," he laughed.

"But ultimately the price of peace is love," said Serrand. "That's the play."

The three men worked on the play six years ago for Theater de la Jeune Lune in Minneapolis. When that company folded, they didn't want to let go of their idea for the production.

An early Shakespeare comedy, "Love's Labor's Lost" isn't one of his best, Epp said, but it is an intriguing play.

"It's a great set up; it's a beautiful structure," he said. "And you see all the seeds in it, of all the things he developed and pursued further in the later plays."

So why not, they thought, use that later work? Serrand said they built on the archetypes in the play.

"We added all the lovers, from all the other plays," he said. "So actually, it's all Shakespeare. We added every play."

They replaced all they had cut with lines from other Shakespeare works.

Actors Jim Lichtscheidl and Maggie Chestovich
Actors Jim Lichtscheidl and Maggie Chestovich play Berowne and Rosaline in the Moving Company's production of "Love's Labor's Lost."
Euan Kerr / MPR News

In one scene, actors Jim Lichtscheidl and Maggie Chestovich play a man and a woman who in true Shakespearean style haven't realized they are perfect for one another, and bicker bitterly.

"Lady, I will commend her to mine own heart," says Berowne, played by Lichtscheidl. "I would she heard it groan."

"Is the fool sick?" retorts Rosaline, played by Chestovich.

"Sick of the heart," says Berowne.

"Alack! Let it bleed!" she says, rolling her eyes.

"Will you prick it with your eye?" asks Berowne, clearly believing he may be making progress.

"No point, with my knife," she scoffs.

The lines are a mashup of "Love's Labor's Lost" and "Much Ado About Nothing." The show contains at least one phrase from every Shakespeare play and at times features women delivering lines spoken by men in their original plays. Remarkably, the actors were able to maintain the playwright's iambic pentameter.

Keepers said the production is about mining Shakespeare's language.

"Anything that sort of fits a thought that you want to get across, or an idea that you want to get across whether it's in a man's or a woman's voice," he said. "And then there were some liberties," he continued. "There was some invention."

Serrand, Epp, and Keepers said most of the Louisville audience couldn't tell between the original lines and those from different works. They think those who are steeped enough in Shakespeare to recognize passages from other plays will get a kick out of spotting them.

They feel they are following an honored theatrical tradition.

"Shakespeare took liberties with himself; you know he did," Epp said. "And he stole from himself. He constantly stole from himself, and from everybody else probably."