Love's Labour Seems Effortless
Review by Anthony Chase
A review of Shakespeare's "Love's Labour's Lost" at Shakespeare in Delaware Park
By Anthony Chase
Shakespeare in Delaware Park faces an annual challenge to bring two of the 38 or so plays written by William Shakespeare to life in a park setting. Their format is often to present one very popular play like Hamlet or King Lear, coupled with a less familiar play like Measure for Measure, or Much Ado About Nothing.
This year’s pairing is Shakespeare’s much loved, The Tempest and the lesser known play with the illogical punctuation, Love’s Labour’s Lost.
In The Tempest, David Marciniak’s portrayal of Prospero was fresh and affirmative. Christine Turturro was lovely and spirited as his daughter Miranda. The clowning of Chris Handley and Norm Sham as Trinculo and Stephano was clever and did not bog down the action. Robyn Lee Horn and Phil Wackerfuss gave vivid and engaging performances as Ariel and Caliban. It was a glorious production.
So a new challenge presents itself.
When the play with the familiar title is a big hit, how do you keep the lesser-known play from paling by comparison?
Sometimes the answer has been to shtick the lesser-known play up with all sorts of extraneous music, mayhem and nonsense. That strategy seldom works.
Happily, that was not SDP’s approach to Love’s Labour’s Lost. Under the direction of Steve Vaughan we are treated to a straightforward and faithful rendering of a play in which love triumphs over human foolishness, showcasing Shakespeare’s innate ability to entertain and to enlighten.
I was amused, in the days leading up to the play’s opening to hear people declare how they “don’t like this one,” referring to a work by our language’s foremost literary genius as if it were a flavor of ice cream. I was amused again, after the show opened, to hear people exclaim with proud amazement that they had loved it.
Every production of a play by Shakespeare is a puzzle to solve or a riddle to crack. It is easy to miscalculate, even with Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Some people might be wary of an unfamiliar title because of lackluster productions they have endured in the past, or by their own unpracticed reading of an unfamiliar Elizabethan play. The challenge is the same, however, no matter which of Shakespeare’s plays is being attempted.
In Love’s Labour’s Lost, we meet King Ferdinand of Navarre. The young king has decided that he and the men of his court will devote three-years to serious study and philosophical reflection, and that during that time, women will be prohibited from coming within a mile of the palace. From the get go, the plan is ill conceived. Lord Berowne, reminds the king that the French princess and her entourage of ladies is due to arrive that very day. The king has entirely failed to figure human desire and love of life into his calculations. The four men sign an oath, but just as quickly they begin to break the rules.
The big advantage to Love’s Labour’s Lost is its complete simplicity. This is a tale of boy gets girl; boy gets girl; boy gets girl; boy gets girl. And in an entirely predictable subplot, boy gets girl. The narrative is easy to follow and amusing to watch.
If audiences have any confusion over the play, it typically centers on its somber conclusion. Just as every thread of the plot seems happily resolved with the union of multiple happy couples, the princess receives word that her father, the king, has died. She decides to return home and to begin a year of mourning with her ladies in waiting. When they return, if the men have proven faithful, they will marry them.
Why the sad ending?
It is not a sad ending. It is a recalibration.
While Ferdinand’s plan to abstain from life was a foolish caprice, devoid of true purpose and doomed to failure, the princess is motivated by events of the real world and a responsibility to take note of them. Ferdinand thought he could deny the power of love. By contrast, the princess determines to sanctify her love for her father, and after moderate period of one year, not three, she and her ladies will return to confirm their love for true husbands.
There is a time for self-denial; there is a time for frivolity; and there is always time for love.
The Shakespeare in Delaware Park production is populated by a capable roster of actors who create appealing characters and render the plot with delight.
The men, Ben Caldwell as King Ferdinand, Darryl Semira as Lord Berowne, Lucas Lloyd as Lord Longaville, and David Wysocki as Lord Dumaine make a charming crew of naïve nobles with Semira seizing the ripe opportunities scripted for as wary and lovelorn Berowne to make a particularly entertaining impression.
Rebecca Elkin agreeably leads the group of ladies as the level-headed Princess of France, supported by her equally agreeable ladies in waiting: Marissa Biondolillo as Lady Rosaline; Gretchen Martino as Lady Maria; and Jamie Nablo as Lady Katharine.
Love’s Labour’s Lost offers some delicious character roles. Tom Loughlin abandons all caution in his broad and hilarious portrayal of Don Adriano de Armado, a Spanish officer with a high self-opinion and a comically tentative grasp of English. The role is a precursor to Il Capitano of the commedia dell-arte. Loughlin’s masterful clowning is matched by his inamorata, the voluptuous and uninhibited Jaquenetta, played by Melissa Leventhal. This relationship signals to the audience and all present that the oath of abstinence is a folly.
In a strong company, we are treated to capable and confident portrayals of an array of Shakespearean comic types – the full array of humanity for which the bard is celebrated. Nathaniel W.C. Higgins takes charge of Boyet, the gossiping attendant to the princess. Charles Wahl is delightful as Moth, the small and quick-witted servant to Don Adriano who bests him in his use of language and effectively puts the unwitting Spaniard in his place. Larry Smith assays the pedant Holofernes. Nick Lama squeezes all the juice from the constable, Anthony Dull.
Perhaps most memorably of all, Peter Horn embodies country bumpkin Costard with a flourish – and showcases his talent on the violin in the process.
With all the elements clicking: choreography by Terri Filips Vaughan; costumes by Jenna Damberger; set by David Dwyer; light by Emma Schimminger; music composed by Randy Andropolis and coordinated by Jay Wollin with fellow musicians Keith Galantowicz and J. Michael Landis, this Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Mr. Vaughan, seems effortless and joyful.
The production closes one of the strongest Shakespeare in Delaware Park seasons in recent memory.