By Rachelle Hughes
The Utah Shakespeare Festival opened its 2013 season night with the exuberant classic Shakespeare romantic comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Shakespeare definitely had a formula that worked. And Love’s Labour’s Lost undeniably fits a classic Shakespeare mold with plot echoes of so many of his other plays. Lovers’ antics, a play within a play, comic relief in the form of a town constable, love letters delivered to the wrong person, disguised courters, witty barbs. They have all been seen before in Shakespeare’s plays. I do love a surprise and this play was unfortunately missing the surprise of a good plot twist. While there are no surprises or suspenseful moments in the play, there were things that made me laugh. And a good giggle is the way to my heart. Well, a good laugh and some excellent acting.
The play begins with the young Ferdinand, King of Navarre(Quinn Mattfeld), and his three best pals Longaville (Robert Adelman Hancock), Dumaine (Jeb Burris) and Berowne (Matt Meuller) swearing off women, rich food and drink and more than three hours of sleep a night in exchange for three years of serious study. Too bad, the Princess of France (Melissa Graves) is on her way to the King of Navarre’s court with her three beautiful ladies’ in waiting and her worldly-wise attendant Boyet (Jeanne Paulsen). At the arrival of the princess and her entourage, the young men try as hard as any young hot blooded man to stay true to their vows. One glance and they are smitten with love. However, there is no way they are revealing their true feelings to their fellow oath-makers. What ensues is an avalanche of silly sonnets, disguises, love letters, a battle of the sexes and an education in the study of love.
First, kudos must go to the person who sets the stage for an audience’s first impression. The artistry of scenic designer Robert Mark Morgan had me enthralled before the first actor even took the stage. Lovely painting work by the Festival’s scenic staff set the stage for an autumn interlude at an ancient manor.
Although, as I said before, this is not one of the most scintillating of Shakespeare’s plots, this play was cast with masterful actors who can tell a story with a mere glance and an inflection of voice. Each actor seemed to understand their character perfectly and they delivered their lines with wit and clarity. Most of all, I loved the exuberant youthfulness of King Navarre and his friends who embraced each new occasion in their life with the pomposity, passion and foolishness of young men trying to become men. There were moments I felt as if I was watching a replay of the banter of the teenage boys that often inhabit my home on any given night. These four actors did such a great job at portraying characters that could be any young man. Well, minus the flowery sonnets they wrote to the princess and her entourage.
Berowne with his sharp wit and streak of roguishness stood out as one of the play’s truest characters. Thank heavens for Berowne. Every love story needs a rogue and Meuller created a self-aware scoundrel who is easy to love. He knows from the beginning that he and his friends’ over the top oath is doomed to failure. He understands his own foibles and seems the least embarrassed when he falls prey to the lady Rosaline (Melinda Pfundstein) who parries his pointed advances with sass and cleverness. Pfundstein can seduce and scold with one look, which made her a perfect fit for Rosaline. Her other female partners in crime (Elizabeth Telford as Maria, Siobhan Doherty as Katherine and Melissa Graves as the Princess of France) were equally schooled in the art of employing the playful rebuke.
As is so often the case with Shakespeare’s plays it is the side characters who end up providing the shining moments of brilliance. The Festival’s Love’s Labour’s Lost was no exception. From the moment, Dull (Thomas J. Novak) came on stage I was intent on catching his subtle expressions, comedic poses and one-liners. Novak played a dullard who was anything but dull. Whenever a scene was getting a little sleepy, I just had to glance at Dull for a quick giggle.
I loved Costard (Christ Klopatek) too. Yep, I am a sucker for Shakespeare’s comic relief roles. But it helps if the actor is gifted in comic timing and this play had a cast full of comic pros who also just happened to be excellent purveyors of Shakespeare’s language and message. The cast was truly this play’s saving grace.
I would recommend this play to those who yearn for a classic comedic love story. It is also a good fit for the youth aged theater-goer who is just learning to love Shakespeare.
Tickets for Love’s Labour’s Lost can be purchased online at bard.org or by calling 1-800-Playtix. Love’s Labour’s Lost is playing in the Adam’s Shakespearean Theatre through August 31.