THE BASICS: LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST, a comedy by William Shakespeare presented by Shakespeare in Delaware Park, directed by Steve Vaughan, starring Ben Caldwell, Rebecca Elkin, Tom Loughlin, Peter Horn and many others, runs through August 18, Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:15 (note “new” start time) on Shakespeare Hill in Delaware Park near the Rose Garden/Marcy Casino (856-4533). Weather cancellations will be announced on Facebook. Some food vendors, plenty of porta-potties, free admission with a goodwill offering solicited by actors at intermission. Picnicking is encouraged, bring your own chair (or sign up to rent one on their website) and perhaps a blanket or a jacket for after sundown.www.shakespeareindelawarepark.org
Runtime: Almost 2-1/2 hours with one 20-minute intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: In the kingdom of Navarre, King Ferdinand (Ben Caldwell) and his three lordly companions, Berowne (Darryl Semira), Dumaine (David Wysocki), and Longaville (Lucas Lloyd) resolve to forgo the company of women for three years to devote themselves to study. Soon after signing their oath, however, the lovely Princess of France (Rebecca Elkin) and her three equally charming ladies in waiting, Rosaline (Marissa Biondolillo), Katharine (Jamie Nablo), and Maria (Gretchen Martino) arrive on a diplomatic mission but, because of the new Navarre rules, end up lodged in a cow pasture a mile from the court. Nevertheless, once the ladies are granted an audience, the King falls in love with the Princess and each of his lords with one of her ladies.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a comedy without a sub-plot involving a love triangle, and this one is between a local peasant, Costard (Peter Horn), his betrothed, the milkmaid Jacquenetta (Melissa Leventhal), and an older man, the stock buffoon character, the Spaniard Don Armado (Tom Loughlin). There’s a mix-up in the delivery of love letters, a play within a play, and plenty of disguises all around – the men to woo the women without breaking their vows of chastity and the women to trick the men into admitting their love. In the end, and it is a strange ending for a comedy, upon news of the death of her father, the French Princess must return home with her ladies, but promises that if the men change their behavior and actually remain true to their oaths for a year, then they will return.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Shakespeare in Delaware Park (SIDP) is famous for snagging high quality local actors before Curtain Up! begins the new theater season, and this play is no exception, including two Equity actors, SIDP veteran Tom Loughlin (last summer’s King Lear) as the old, foolish foreigner Don Adriano de Armado and young Darryl Semira as the clever Lord Berowne, always trying to get around the “no hanky panky” decree one way or another.
The four gentlemen would-be lovers are all so young, athletic, and handsome and the princess and her three ladies-in-waiting are all so beautiful and well-spoken that this play, one of the lesser ones by Shakespeare, could be a Disney production. Which brings us to the costumes designed by Jenna Damberger (assisted by Brenna Prather with apprentice Katie Pericak, cut by Sarah Foote, and stitched by Emma Siddon). They are all clever, but I have a special memory of a scene where the ladies, haven been given jewels by the men, appear for a masque in bejeweled gowns as well. With lighting designed by Emma Schimminger, on a summer evening near twilight, it’s a magical moment.
Director Vaughan, who is also a fight director, knows how to move people around, and here makes a statement by having the lords, who are a bit mixed up as to their loyalties and motives, scattered about the stage, up and down, left and right. The women, on the other hand, who are of like mind, move as a murmuration of starlings, in unison.
And now on to the funny men who have some heavy lifting, often the case with Shakespeare, and exacerbated here by the fact 1. This is not one of the bard’s great plays and 2. The inclusion of a character who has nothing to do with the plot, Holofernes, played by Larry Smith, who loves to toy with the English language, when he verbally “jousts” with Don Armado.
But this is not a problem unique to this production. On a recent trip to the Stratford (Shakespeare) Festival in Canada, on several occasions the 500-year-old Shakespearean humor was discussed. One tried and true solution to bring modern audiences along is to simply cut some comic scenes or at least pare them down. Another solution is to have actors work closely with the director, line by line, so that there is no doubt as to the intended meaning. Yet another solution is to hire comic actors who, through their innate and honed abilities, can, as it was put at a workshop I attended, “sell the lines and get a laugh, even though, honestly, a 21st century audience really doesn’t understand them.”
If you’d like to go behind the scenes of this production with a podcast called “The Play’s the Thing” in which co-host Matt Boyle and I speak with SIDP Executive Managing Director Lisa Ludwig, Director Steve Vaughan, and actor Tom Loughlin about these very issues you can listen here, or watch here.
LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST succeeds through a combination of all three mentioned techniques, I suspect, which leads to huge kudos for comic actor Peter Horn, who embraces the role of Costard, the farmer in love with the milkmaid Jaquenetta. Horn recently starred in A TIME TO KILL at Desiderio’s as lawyer Jake Brigance and at that time I compared him to Michael Shannon in the way he keeps us wondering what he’s going to do next. Here he uses his whole body to “sell” his character, but not in a clownish way. He can freeze a pose and wait for the laugh while at the same time his diction is so clear that the audience stays with him throughout. All of that and he’s the best musician on stage!
Horn is ably abetted by Charles Wahl, short in stature but high in talent, who also has a “hidden” talent, a beautiful tenor voice! Another comic role, Dull, is played by Nick Lama who has the same vocal talent, and, as it turns out, closes the show with a song to the approving surprise of the audience, who did not expect such fine musicianship to come from such a “dull” character. The cast is completed by Nathanial W.C. Higgins as Boyet, counsel to the princess.
I’m giving this production Four Buffalos even though the description of that rating is “Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.” In this case, let’s be honest, the play isn’t really “of high caliber.” Yes, it’s Shakespeare, but it ain’t one of the great ones, not by a long shot. Nevertheless, the director, cast, and crew make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so, yes “I would make a real effort to attend.”
I was disappointed by most of the music as provided by the “on-stage” (hidden in the balcony) musicians. The louder dance numbers were fine, but the incidental music was awkward and rather lugubrious for a comedy.
To sum, one of my favorite scenes came not from the actors, but from an audience member sitting behind me, whom I overheard telling his companions: “You can read the plot synopsis in the program if you want to, but with Shakespeare, thirty seconds in to the play you’ll be hopelessly lost.” Then, wait for it, immediately after the play I heard him say: “Well, that was MUCH easier to follow than I thought it would be. That was FUN!” So, there you go, director Steve Vaughan, put that on your resumé. You dun good!
UP NEXT: Most of the actors in this summer’s SIDP shows have been cast in various productions for the coming season, starting with the 38th annual “Curtain Up!”on September 20th, 2019. “Act I” if you choose to indulge is the $100 a plate 38th Annual Gala Dinner at 500 Pearl. “Act II” involves the various (ticketed) theater offerings all around town (not just downtown) which, on this night only, all begin at 8:00 p.m. and “Act III” is a FREE “Street Party on Main Street” with live music, street performers, and food trucks (not free) which lasts until 1 am.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!