If you go
What: Colorado Shakespeare Festival presents ‘Love‘s Labour‘s Lost‘
When: Through Aug. 12
Where: Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre, 277 University Ave., Boulder
Cost: Tickets start at $20
More info: ,
Director: Brendon Fox
True love is complicated. It offers no tidy storybook endings; no resolutions wrapped up neatly in a ribbon and bow.
Left to right, Seth Dhonau (Berowne), Marco Robinson (King Ferdinand), David Derringer (Dumaine) and AJ Voliton (Longaville) act in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival production of “Love‘s Labour‘s Lost.” ()
That message is a clear takeaway from “Love‘s Labour‘s Lost,” a comedy that forgoes William Shakespeare‘s usual penchant for neat resolutions in tracking the union of lovers. Here, the trials and travails of four would-be couples over the course of five acts result in questions and cliffhangers; the Bard offers a view of love that demands patience and invites speculation on the part of the audience.
In addition to the comedy‘s intricate wordplay, historical references and gags designed specifically for an Elizabethan crowd, this note of enigma makes “Love‘s Labour‘s Lost” a bold selection for the premiere piece of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival‘s 61st season. Director Brendon Fox and a spirited cast of players tackle one of Shakespeare‘s most complex comedies, a densely constructed piece that offers plenty of potential pitfalls to modern audiences.
Happily, the gap between Shakespeare‘s original vision and the Mary Rippon stage (gorgeously outfitted by scenic designer Stephen Jones) never seems impassable in this energetic production. A cast full of talented actors new to the CSF tackles the show‘s elaborate wordplay and rhetorical posturings with the required comic sensitivity; Fox and the production team create a pace that keeps the many subplots of the show operating smoothly amid all the linguistic flourishes.
The show‘s intricacies are rooted in its setting and its central questions, rooted in the academic pretensions of the 16th century. The show kicks off with the King of Navarre (Marco Robinson) and his retinue of Berowne (Seth Dhonau), Longaville (AJ Voliton) and Dumaine (David Derringer) taking a pledge to avoid the company of women for three years and devote themselves entirely to learning.
It‘s a plan that draws protests and hesitation, especially from Berowne, and one that finds an immediate challenge with the arrival of the Princess of France (Desirée Mee Jung) and her attendants, Rosaline (Brynn Tucker), Katherine (Amber Scales) and Maria (Aziza Gharib). The King and his three lords immediately fall for the princess and her three ladies, and they must decide between the demands of their oaths and the demands of their heart.
This central conflict arises as Don Adriano de Armado (Rafael Untalan), a visiting Spanish knight, struggles with his own budding affection for Jaqenetta (Anastasia Davidson), a dairymaid recently implicated in a relationship with the clown Costard (Michael Bouchard). He seeks advice from his page, Moth (Anthony Adu), and hatches his own plot to win her heart.
The concurrent affairs of the heart lead to confused and comic courting, with mistaken letters, ridiculous costumes and rich pageantry. The four French ladies and their attendant Boyet (Scott Coopwood) devise plots to derail the lords‘ pretentious romantic plots, and the stuffy academic Holofernes (Matthew Schneck) and his attendant Sir Nathaniel (Casey Andree) offer their own insights on the most effective way to woo.
This stream of romantic action unrolls with some of Shakespeare‘s most intricate dialogue. The show progresses with the singsong cadence of Elizabethan poetry, and the author includes references that many scholars conclude would be obscure even to audiences in the 16th century.
The cast doesn‘t get bogged down in these moments, and instead consistently finds the inherent comedy in the show‘s densest dialogue. The Navarre noblemen find the heart of their conflicts, with Dhonau as Berowne delivering some of the most powerful moments of the show in arguing to abandon their plans for monastic scholarship. The French troupe offers similar highlights; even amid the most complex stretches of dialogue, Jung, Tucker, Scales and Gharib keep up a levity that keeps the spirit of the comedy intact. Coopwood, who was a highlight of last year‘s CSF program, returns with arresting energy as Boyet.
These performances find a compliment in the sharp comic skill of the ensemble. Bouchard is a highlight of the show as the clown Costard — he draws gut laughs even as he references ancient mythology and Elizabethan foibles. As the obsessed scholar Holofernes, Schneck is hilariously crazed as he spouts Latin and corrects pronunciations. Even the references that are lost on modern audiences draw a response under Schneck‘s guidance. As the Spaniard Don Adriano, Untalan goes all out, delivering the character‘s romantic asides in a larger-than-life accent that, at times, feels cartoonish and even obscures the specifics of the dialogue. Even so, his frenetic and frantic feel fits with the overall spirit of the show.
Indeed, the manic energy of these hapless lovers gives the elaborate dialogue a proper spirit under Fox‘s direction. The incomprehensible plays as a comic take-down of pretension, which fits with Shakespeare‘s intent. The production doesn‘t fully escape from the weight of its density — later scenes featuring the full ensemble of lovers, attendants and clowns drag a bit, as the actors in the background work a bit too hard to remain animated and responsive to the back-and-forth between lead players. Even so, the pace and spirit of the show remains properly compelling across the five acts.
The laughs persist even up to the end, as the action takes an unexpected and solemn turn. The text has an unfinished, unresolved feel, and historical records hint at a lost sequel to the comedy, an installment titled “Love‘s Labour‘s Won” that follows the trials of these lovers to their proper end.
As tragic as the loss of that sequel may be, “Love‘s Labour‘s Lost” on its own offers a view of love that‘s messier than Shakespeare‘s standard vision in comedies. It‘s a view that hints at the true complexity of the heart, a theme that the CSF production captures with laughs and pathos.