Love’s labor’s … yawn
Good acting and costumes don’t quite save mediocre play
The show has everything that should guarantee success: good actors, great costumes and sets, meticulous lighting and sound, a script by William Shakespeare. So why is one left with a certain nagging feeling of disappointment? An uneasy sense that somehow this year’s Shakespeare in the Park offering of Love’s Labor’s Lost is not simply a walk in the park, but practically a snooze there?
Maybe it’s the script. This is not one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies. Yes, it does attempt to be witty within its rhyming, iambic-pentameter couplets. But often the puns and pointed observations are so piled up they feel forced, like the work of a young writer trying too hard to impress.
Written between 1594 and 1595, Love’s Labor’s Lost is actually one of Shakespeare’s late “lyric period” plays, drawing heavily from (but also parodying) both courtly playwright and contemporary John Lyly and the Italian sonnet writer Petrarch. But the play is also among the Bard’s first comedies and as such a bit spare on actual plot.
Basically, King Ferdinand of Nevarre gulls three young lords into signing an agreement with him that they will abstain from female company for three years, since women tend to distract from serious study (according to the king). Of course, even in the static universe of a Shakespearean comedy, where the only major threat is one’s own misguided ego, nature usually triumphs; all the intellect in the world cannot seriously abate the persistence of human passion.
With the arrival of the Princess of France and her maids in waiting, it is only a matter of time before these mock (and appropriately mocked) celibates make utter hypocrites and fools of themselves, as each attempts to secretly connect with one of the young maids (who, in turn, utterly roast their prospective suitors for the men’s collective idiocy). Naturally, there are the usual mix-ups, connivances, and bone-headed mistakes, the most damning being the entrusting of puerile love letters to a fool (and aren’t puerile love letters always entrusted to fools?).
Anyway, the point is the play is a rather flimsy story with plenty of youthful over-the-top word play and lyricism (even editor David Bevington, in his The Complete Works of Shakespeare, states that the “occasional scenes of verbal sparring are as tedious as anything Shakespeare ever wrote.") So maybe that’s the problem with this production. One is simply left bored.
Still, there’s no faulting the actors. Everyone does as good a job with the material as possible under the circumstances. Standout performances include those of Erik Pedersen, Robert Garcia and Matthew Brown as the sex-foresworn lords, Biron, Dumain and Longaville, respectively. Allen Lunde is comical in a Lou Costello sort of way as the fool Costard. As the witty, cruel objects of the lords’ affections, Ryan A. Beattie, Dawn McConnell and Jodi Rives Schall are perfect. Actually, the whole cast turns in pretty good performances.
Still, there’s this nagging sense of … indifference. Many aspects of the directorial choices seem far too reminiscent of last year’s The Merry Wives of Windsor—the blocking, the slapstick, characters with exaggerated accents and speech impediments, the forays past the “fourth wall” and into the audience. Further, when one considers how many superior Shakespearean comedies there are and how much talent is available in the Chico area, it is bewildering that for two years in a row we have been "treated" to frankly inferior works, however brightly adorned. Maybe it’s time for the forces behind Shakespeare in the Park to consider assembling a truly challenging production. The only slightly more-than-half-full house for opening night certainly lends itself to such a consideration.