Internet Shakespeare Editions

Become a FriendSign in

Toolbox

Scene

Vibrant Love's Labor's Lost Adds Vivid Colors to Glorious Oregon Setting and Dazzling Night Skies

by Jim Volz. Written on 2011-07-22. Published in Reviews from the ISE Chronicle.

For the production Love's Labor's Lost (2011, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, USA)

VIBRANT LOVE’S LABOR’S LOST ADDS VIVID COLORS TO
GLORIOUS OREGON SETTING AND DAZZLING NIGHT SKIES

In the hands of an uninspired director, Shakespeare’s sometimes melancholy, too often enigmatic Love’s Labor’s Lost is generally a snoozer. On the scholarly side, the LLL reader needs to be a Googling researcher to decipher the stream of topical references, nonsensical wordplay and cluttered imagery.

Fortunately, the joy of attending the world’s great Shakespeare Festivals means that audiences are often treated to directors who can whimsically or woefully marry an Elizabethan play to a modern day audience. In recent years, this reviewer has witnessed Australians who were captivated by the usually puzzling Pericles (Bell Shakespeare Festival in the Sydney Opera House), Canadians mesmerized by a bloody Titus Andronicus in a tent (Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach) and Brits devastated by a 5 ½ hour London production of Rose Rage (think Henry VI and the War of the Roses).

So, it’s not a surprise that a clever director (Shana Cooper) and an ensemble of bright actors generally manage to create a Love’s Labor’s Lost that captures the Bard’s brilliant comic sense without muting the yearning, bittersweet quality of the text.

Scenic designer Christopher Acebo, costume designer Christal Weatherly and lighting designer Marcus Doshi create a series of colorfully playful settings in the Spanish province and the play opens on OSF’s expansive Elizabethan Stage, with King Ferdinand of Navarre (Mark Bedard) and his three pals (Berowne, Longaville & Dumaine) roughhousing with a football, girly magazines, and a large trashcan (where they are reluctantly disposing of their dorm room goodies at semester’s end).

Of course, the play revolves around Ferdinand’s insistence that they all stick to their studies and forswear women for three years (much to the dismay of the incalcitrant Berowne (aptly played by Greg Linington). Rounding out the fasting-foursome, the oft ridiculously clad Ramiz Monsef as Longaville and John Tufts as Dumaine have a great sense of physical comedy and make for much merriment throughout the play (especially when the four French damsels appear and thwart their plans). Kate Hurster is a dazzling Princess of France and Tiffany Rachelle Stewart (Maria), Christine Albright (Katherine) and Stephanie Beatriz (Rosaline) are in turn, coy, fetching and determined enough to keep the production focused and the main plot on track.

Unfortunately, though peopled with marvelous actors, the loquacious lower-class characters always play as long-winded, excessively written silly people penned by a young playwright in love with his own cleverness. Jack Willis, Jonathan Haugen and Gina Daniels are crystal clear and strong as Don Armado, Costard and Jacquenetta. Overall, the Bard’s country characters offer interesting thematic counterpoints to the wooing royalty but the transitions and connections are fuzzy and too often feel like an inconvenient interruption of the young lovers’ journeys.

Most scholars speculate that Love’s Labor’s Lost was first performed in 1594, with Shakespeare around the ripe old age of 30. There are nearly 23,000 words in LLL and audiences always seem to struggle with approximately half of them. Even the uproarious disguised dancing Russian would-be lovers masquerade goes on too long and The Nine Worthies extravaganza seems like one more bit of unnecessary comic relief when the audience just wants to cut to the chase. Is this a boy gets girl romantic comedy or a frustrating Remains of the Day relationship quadrupled?

As it turns out, OSF’s Love’s Labor’s Lost is a bit of both–made palatable by a seasoned company, colorful, inventive uses of the space, whipped cream pie fights, a dash of directorial dexterity, and the glorious night sky on a chilly night over the Elizabethan Stage in Ashland, Oregon.

–Jim Volz, Editor, Shakespeare Theatre Association’s quarto

 Professor, Theatre, California State University, Fullerton

Jim Volz is an associate member of the American Theatre Critics Association, former CEO/Managing Director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and the author of seven books, including HOW TO RUN A THEATRE (Methuen Drama/2011), WORKING IN AMERICAN THEATRE (Methuen Drama/2011), and SHAKESPEARE NEVER SLEPT HERE. He has produced over 100 professional productions, consulted for over 100 theatres and professional arts groups, and written over 100 articles for publication in newspapers, magazines, books and journals. He may be reached at jvolz@fullerton.edu