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Fall in love with NSR’s autumn show ‘Love’s Labor’s Lost’

| Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Ethan Chiang | The Observer

To everything, there is a season, and to every season of Notre Dame’s end-of-semester performances, there is Shakespeare. 

William Shakespeare runs deep at Notre Dame. 1864 marks the first full production of a Shakespeare production at the University. 1997 marks the revival of the student-run Shakespeare troupe Not-So-Royal Shakespeare Co. (NSR). 2007 marks the foundation of the Shakespeare at Notre Dame program which “fuse[s] the University’s pursuit of compassionate social justice with the study of the works of William Shakespeare.”

But thanks specifically to NSR, “Love’s Labor’s Lost” is hitting the stage in Washington Hall Lab Theatre. The student production will run from Nov. 15-17 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the LaFortune Box Office for $5 or at the door for $7.

Editor’s note: Scene Editor Anna Falk is the stage manager for this production.

Here’s the premise: The King of Navarre (Josh Lehman) and his three friends vow to swear off women to dedicate themselves to a rigorous life of study. The Princess of France (Meaghan Northup) and her three friends come to visit Spain as political ambassadors, but the men force them to camp outside of their court. Plus, a larger-than-life Spanish solider Don Armado (Dominic Keene) is infatuated with servant girl Jacquenetta (Madison Denchfield)…and so is his trustee Costard (Jacob Rush). The temptation is there. What happens if these men fall in love and break their vows?

Director Hannah Smith’s take on this whimsical production is very “Dead Poets Society” meets “Princess Diaries.” The metaphorical band of brothers swears off women in the same naive and energetic way as the boys of Welton Academy. The girls are escorted around Spain by a well-meaning father figure of a security guard (Will Barrett). The cozy 60s autumn vibes are palpable in the beautiful fall foliage decorating the set and the cast’s tasteful costumes. Plus, there are some impressive dances.

Gray Nocjar | The Observer
Barrett (left) and John Donaruma (right) sharing a private word.

I’ll avoid going into further detail, but I will spoil one more thing. The show ends with the whole cast singing a sentimental cover of The Byrd’s 1965 folk song “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” which features lyrics from Ecclesiastes 3

But after watching this production, I am tempted to think of a different Bible verse: If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (Corinthians 13). 

Bad Shakespeare sounds very much like a resounding gong or clanging symbol. The complexity of Shakespearean verse can sometimes turn audiences away in something academics like to call the “Shakespeare Fear Factor.” On top of this, “Love’s Labor’s Lost” is a notoriously difficult Shakespeare play to stage due to its sophisticated wordplay, pedantic humor and outdated references.

Good Shakespeare, as my old boss at the Robinson Community Learning Center Shakespeare Program defined it, happens when each person in the production makes sure the audience understands what is happening in a scene, even if they do not understand the language. 

With the love of NSR, Shakespeare becomes the tongue of men and angels. Standout performances from Keene as Don Adriano de Armado, Northrup as the Princess of France and Ryan Mantey as Berowne make Shakespeare simple. Verse drips from their mouths like honey. 

Gray Nocjar | The Observer
Mantey delivers a heated monologue during the opening scene.

Any person who cares about the arts at Notre Dame has either known or become a member of NSR. As somebody who has watched this club from a distance, I’ve seen the laughter and joy onstage, the tears and consolatory hugs backstage and the product of hours of dedicated rehearsal in the blackbox Washington Hall Lab Theatre. If anything is clear to me, the cast and crew of NSR love each other in the same way they love Shakespeare — with passion, dedication and a surprising amount of skill. 

To everybody in the audience, I assure you this labor of love will not be lost on you.

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About Claire Lyons

Claire is the current Viewpoint Editor for The Observer. She is a senior from Fort Worth, TX with majors in Honors English and political science. She is interested in fostering free speech on campus, the latest non-fiction essay collections and Sufjan Stevens.

Contact Claire