Zingers fly at Boscobel in polished ‘Love’s Labours Lost’
(Alex Adrian Johnson and Denise Cormier in “Love’s Labours Lost” at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, now in repertory with “Romeo and Juliet” and “The 39 Steps” through Labor Day weekend. Photo by William Marsh.)
“Love’s Labours Lost” — now in a rollicking, wisecracking production at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Garrison — is everything “Romeo and Juliet,” another of the summer’s offerings there, is not.
“Romeo and Juliet” portrays love, earnest and true; “Love’s Labours” plays love for sport.
While Romeo and Juliet connect naturally, the “lovers” — can we call them that? — in “Love’s Labours” employ flowery language and artificial means to express, and even repel, love.
“Romeo and Juliet” is effortlessly poetic. The characters in “Love’s Labours”? Well, they labor at it.
If the star-crossed lovers teach us that love conquers all, in “Love’s Labours” we learn that, while love may be wonderful, it can also make us act like fools.
How else to explain a king and his lords dressing up as wild-and-crazy Muscovites (with a nod to Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd) and wooing by trinket, not by heart? Or a wildly ridiculous don battling with a clown for the affections of a feisty dairymaid, a woman well below his station?
It’s love, Navarre style and, as directed by Terrence O’Brien, it is by turns stylish, loopy, witty and winning.
O’Brien begins the evening with an elegant parade of dramatis personae, set to Stravinsky’s soothing “Pastorale: Chant Sans Paroles,” a wordless prelude that belies the battle of warring tongues to follow.
When we first meet King Ferdinand of Navarre and his lords Berowne, Dumaine and Longaville, they have vowed to live three years in study and fasting, free of women
Says the king:
“Navarre shall be the wonder of the world;
Our court shall be a little Academe,
Still and contemplative in living art.”
The princess, played with cool calculation by Denise Cormier, will have none of these silly oaths, befuddling the king, a blissfully benign Richard Ercole, who deftly delivers a monarch whose mettle is melting.
Before long, each of the oath takers falls like dominoes, his pride crushed, his folly assured as each chosen woman walks on the ground he worships.
“We are wise girls to mock our lovers so,” declares the princess triumphantly.
Festival regulars await O’Brien’s signature device: finding a contemporary song to capture the mood of the piece in a big, bold, lip-synched production number. What better song for a show about devotion, however misplaced or misguided, than Barry White’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” delivered with gusto, under a disco ball, by a company of lords, ladies and, yes, even cows?
If Shakespeare skewers dew-eyed lovers who swoon and moon, he likewise targets academics, with the curate Nathaniel and the schoolmaster Holofernes presented as little more than Latin-spouting buffoons. Daniel Morgan Shelley and Stephen Paul Johnson play them to polysyllabic perfection.
As the ladies, Katie Hartke, Anna Hanson and Ally Farzetta convey just the right level of playful detachment. Drew Lewis’ Dumaine and Charlie Francis Murphy’s Longaville ride the wave, from determined not to love to undone to resolved to love in full.
Michael Borrelli’s Don Adriano de Armado is a Spanglish-speaking wonder whose swagger, handlebar moustache and delightfully over-the-top accent must be seen and heard to be appreciated. In Armado, Borrelli finds a comic role he can make his own, and he does.
To create Armado’s wisecracking page, Moth, Patrick Halley uses a nasal deez-dem-and-doze accent that suits the role — and might fit right in at Broadway’s “Newsies,” too.
Those spared Shakespeare’s lash here are the straight talkers: the fun-loving milkmaid Jaquenetta (the brilliant bright-eyed innocence of Larchmont native Gabra Zackman); the dim constable Anthony Dull, whose head spins in the fog of words spouted by the learned men (the steadfast and funny Jack Mackie); Costard the clown (the appealing Ryan Quinn); and Boyet, the princess’ lord in waiting, whose intelligence keeps his ladies two steps ahead of all the king’s men. Wesley Mann plays Boyet with dispatch and a charming twinkle in his eye.
The evening’s best speeches belong to Jason O’Connell’s Berowne who, having entered this escapade knowing his will was weak, nonetheless is shocked by how easily he fell. “O my little heart,” he cries.
Berowne is as near a Montague as the evening gets when he waxes on the power that love grants its recipient:
“But love, first learned in a lady’s eyes,
Lives not alone immured in the brain;
But, with the motion of all elements,
Courses as swift as thought in every power,
And gives to every power a double power,
Above their functions and their offices.”
It’s a long, lovely speech, beautifully rendered in the style that has made Hudson Valley Shakespeare a beloved destination for 26 summers. While king and courtiers may resort to artifice, O’Brien and his co-conspirators rarely do. They mine the text for its essence and serve it up with wisdom and grace.
In that happy effort, no labors are lost.
“Love’s Labours Lost,” through Labor Day, now in repertory with “Romeo and Juliet” and “The 39 Steps” through Labor Day weekend. Boscobel Restoration, Route 9D, Garrison. $37 to $60. 845-265-9575. Go to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival website for the performance calendar.
(Bottom photo by William Marsh: Jason O’Connell as Berowne.)