Moving Company presents ‘a love letter to Shakespeare’

Photo by Richard Tyler Rowley
Nathan Keepers, Heidi Bakke and Steven Epp in the Moving Company's adaptation of “Love’s Labours Lost.”

Leave it to The Moving Company to take a Shakespeare play, pull it apart and start over. “We took ‘Love’s Labours Lost’ and got rid of most of it, and then we filled with text and material from every Shakespeare play,” Steven Epp said in the company’s Kickstarter video. (The Kickstarter campaign was successful.) Dominique Serrand elaborated: “We took young Shakespeare’s play, emptied out some of the parts that were not as interesting, kept the most beautiful parts, then filled it with all the beautiful lovers from all the other plays.” Nathan Keepers calls their version “a love letter to Shakespeare.”

Epp and Serrand are co-artistic directors and Keepers is an artistic associate of The Moving Company, which rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the Theatre de la Jeune Lune after it closed suddenly in June 2008. “Love’s Labours Lost” was in the works back then. In September of this year, it was co-produced and presented with Actors Theatre of Louisville, earning radiant reviews. Some examples: “Much to love.” “Feels like falling in love.” “A feast of heightened emotions, a rollercoaster of desire, disappointment, romance and mirth.”

Starting with Shakespeare’s original – “Love’s Labours Lost” is one of his earliest comedies and not his greatest – The Moving Company reimagined, remixed and trimmed. They cut out a layer of characters and brought in text from all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, the mother lode of language, and wove it in. So the bawdy Jacquenetta ends up speaking words written for Juliet (“What light from yonder breaks?”) but in very different circumstances. “The way we’re working is actually in the spirit of how Shakespeare wrote,” Epp said in an interview in Louisville. “He constantly stole from himself. And from everybody else.”

We spoke with Nathan Keepers yesterday afternoon about the play, its history, and why it’s a good choice for the holidays.

MinnPost: You originally planned to produce this play in 2008. How did it feel to return to it?

Nathan Keepers: Good. When we first started working on it, we were excited by the prospects of what it could be. And then, because of circumstances, it didn’t happen. When we got the opportunity to go back at it, we got really excited. We already had a draft we were ready to start with.

MP: Can you give us a glimpse into your process for creating this play?

NK: Once we knew what we were going to do with Shakespeare’s play, we went in and started removing the stuff we didn’t want to deal with. We got the original down to a frame that we liked. From there, we went back into his other plays and started pulling language to fill out the archetypes we were creating within “Love’s Labours Lost.” We have a Henry V and Kate kind of pair, a Beatrice and Benedict pair, a Miranda and Ferdinand pair. We were reading and mining language and saying, “We want to get this idea across here, and this thought across here.”

Sometimes one speech can be a crazy mix of language – a line from “Love’s Labours Lost,” then “Twelfth Night,” “Timon of Athens,” “As You Like It,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Love’s Labours Lost.” But it all scans correctly.

MP: Did you start by thinking you would bring in language from all of the other plays?

That was not a goal. We never even thought of it. In June, we did a workshop with a dramaturge, and she said, “You guys are missing four of [Shakespeare’s] plays. You have something from everything except four plays.” Once she said that, we decided we might as well go for it.

Ideally, when someone comes and sees the play, if they know Shakespeare, they’ll be able to pick stuff out and say, “Oh, they used that!” and “That’s from this play!” But it’s not an exercise in knowledge of Shakespeare.

MP: Did you get a sense of Shakespeare’s language becoming stronger and more sophisticated over time? Of his evolution as a playwright?

NK: Absolutely. You can see it. Some people say that “Love’s Labours Lost” might be his first play. But I’ve also heard that about “Comedy of Errors.” Who knows? “As You Like It” is stunning. And “The Tempest,” which is really late, is just gorgeous. There are some beautiful things in “Love’s Labours Lost,” but also a lot of didactic things and pedantic things. It was probably very topical in its time, but when you read it now it’s almost incomprehensible.

MP: Do you consider your  “Love’s Labours Lost” a new play or an old play?

NK: It’s a new play… And it’s a great holiday show, even though it’s not holiday-themed. It’s festive, it’s warm, it’s a love story. If people are looking for an escape from the usual things, this is the show.

“Love’s Labours Lost” is directed and designed by Serrand, conceived and adapted by Epp, Keepers and Serrand, with costumes by Sonya Berlovitz, lighting by Marcus Dilliard, and sound by Zach Humes. The cast includes Epp, Keepers, Jim Lichtscheidl, Maggie Chestovich, Heidi Bakke, Hugh Kennedy, Jennifer Baldwin-Peden, Ricardo Vazquez, Ashley Rose Montondo, Lucas Melsha and Emily King, It opens at the Lab Theater this Friday (Nov. 21). Preview night is Thursday (tomorrow). The play runs Thursdays through Sundays until Dec. 21, with no performance Thanksgiving day. FMI and tickets ($20 preview, $32 general admission, $20 students).

The Picks

Tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 19) at the Walker: “Midwest? The Past, Present, and Future of Minnesota’s Identity.” What does “Midwest” even mean? It sounds neither here nor there. Nebulous, boring, and wimpy. Is there a better name for who and where we are? Design, marketing and branding experts explore the role of identity in helping our state succeed. 6 p.m. FMI. Free. Tickets are available starting at 5 p.m.

Thursday through Saturday: MCAD 17th Annual Art Sale. Each year at the nation’s largest college art sale, serious collectors rub elbows with people looking for something to hang over the sofa. This year’s sale features 6,270 works of art by 428 artists (267 MCAD students, 185 alumni), most priced at or below $100. All proceeds go directly to the individual artists or to MCAD Art Sale Scholarship funds. Thursday is opening night (6-9 p.m.); tickets are $150. On Friday (6-9 p.m.) the price drops to $20 in advance, $25 at the door. On Saturday (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), admission is free and open to the public. There will still be a lot of art left.

Friday and Saturday at the Cowles: Zenon Dance Company’s 32nd Fall Season. Two world premieres, two reprises. In “Coming Home,” Cuban choreographer and McKnight International Artist Osnel Delgado uses baseball as a metaphor for life, confrontation, and people coming together for a common goal. Vanessa Anspaugh’s “blind drive driveway” explores our desire to connect and the ways we resist connection. With “Caught” by Stefanie Batten Bland and “My Very Empty Mouth” by Wynn Fricke. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($34). Through Nov. 30.

Friday through Sunday at the O’Shaughnessy: TU Dance. The St. Paul dance company opens its 11th performance season with a world premiere work by Icelandic choreographer Katrin Hall and selections from its repertoire. Hall’s work, a commission from the O’Shaughnessy, explores the concept of finding space. With “If and Or,” choreographed by Dwight Rhoden, and two pieces by artistic director Uri Sands, “High Heel Blues” and “One.” 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:00 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($12–$29). 

Saturday at Hopkins High School: JazzMN’s “Little Big Band.” Larger than a combo, smaller than a jazz orchestra, the JazzMN Orchestra’s Little Big Band ranges from eight to 14 musicians. They’ll play a mix of classic works by Miles Davis, Oliver Nelson, Kenny Dorham, Art Pepper, Maynard Ferguson, and area saxophonist Pete Whitman. Vocalist Charmin Michelle will premiere two pieces that Twin Cities composer Adi Yesha wrote especially for her. 7:30 p.m. 2400 Lindbergh Drive, Minnetonka. FMI and tickets ($34–$10).

Saturday at Roseville Lutheran Church: VocalEssence Presents Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Philip Brunelle considers YPC “the finest youth choir in North America, with no exception!” They’re here for a four-day visit that includes choral workshops, recording, and several performances including this one. The program includes work by Robert Schumann, Leonard Bernstein, Dominick Argento, and Stephen Paulus. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20–$30).

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