Playing it like a 1930s screwball comedy, the outdoor Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival turned the Bard’s early (circa 1595 or thereabouts) comedy of words, Love’s Labour’s Lost, into a grand farce – but with a delicious twist. Pitting his usual gender battles into a never-ending “mist of words” guaranteed to leave even the most battle-hardened gasping for breath (and relief), the Master then turns the play on the proverbial “ducat.” The Bard leaves his audience as disconcerted as the burgeoning ascetic Ferdinand, King of Navarre, and his trio of acolyte lords – Berowne, Dumaine and Longaville – who have given their solemn vow to uphold the King’s inclination to study, fast and avoid the company of women for three long years.
All is well until the King and his court receive a letter from Don Armando, a long-winded Spanish noblemen, telling them that he has caught Costard “the Fool” fooling around in the park with Jaquenetta, the comely country wench. Costard is taken before the King and given sentence. But there is more here than meets the eye, as Don Armando confesses to his Bowery Boys page, Moth, that he, Don Armando, has himself fallen in love with the wench, and presses on Costard a totally incoherent love letter to his new “lady” love. As this is happening, the Princess of France and her lovely ladies-in-waiting – Rosaline, Maria and Catherine – come for a visit, but because of the boys’ oath, are not allowed to see the king and his trio of soon-to-be-lovestruck lords. Of course, when the male quartet meets the female quartet, voilà! It is love – love all around, all four guys feeling “I Can’t Get Enough of You, Baby” as sung by the Love Man (Barry White) himself, and lip-synched by the cast.
“Courtship may be amusing and entertaining, but if love is to have any meaning it must be earned and expressed by action,” says director Terrence O’Brien. “Only Shakespeare could write a play about language that conveys so powerfully the confounding limitations of language, articulating beautifully what language truly can and cannot express.”
Love’s Labour’s Lost is often thought of as Shakespeare’s most flamboyantly intellectual play and is filled with sophisticated wordplay, puns and literary allusions – but more in language for the contemporary audience of 1600 than the present. For this reason it has never been one of the Bard’s more popular plays. In the hands of O’Brien and the go-for-broke cast of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, it does come alive – with difficulty, but alive it truly is.
With Michael Borelli’s over-the-top Don Armando (a not-so-suave blend of a caped and spiral-mustachioed, pearl-handled-cane-twirling, utterly bombastic Salvador Dalí and an incomprehensible Ricky Ricardo) leading the way, and with Leo Gorceyish (Bowery Boys, East Side Kids et cetera) Patrick Halley (as Moth) perpetually at his side to encourage and bedevil him, the cast – as usual – hits all the right notes. Jason O’Connell is his usual manic circumlocutionary self as the king’s right-hand lord, Berowne, and Ryan Quinn (as Costard) and Gabra Zachman (as Jaquenetta) set the stage perfectly, kicking off the play by lustily rolling around in the grass outside the mainstage tent. And as usual, the most memorable cast member at all of Hudson Valley Shakespeare’s productions through its 25-year history is the Hudson River itself, glowing Thomas Colelike beyond Constitution Island Marsh and the flowing lawn at Boscobel.
Love’s Labour’s Lost will play through September 1, with upcoming performances this month on June 24, June 27, June 29 and 30. Call the box office at (845) 265-9575 or go to http://hvshakespeare.org for more information and directions.