This is young Shakespeare at his silliest, and his goal to amuse is reached again and again.
Ah, what could be better on a warm summer night than romance and Shakespearean silliness?
Okay, it wasn’t that warm, but the Old Globe Shakespeare Festival offers a charming version of “Love’s Labor’s Lost” through Sept. 18 at the Lloyd Davies Festival Theatre.
The backdrop is John Lee Beatty’s gorgeous woodsy set with lots of bushes and a very long, very steep staircase leading up to a big, fancy gate. (If it reminds you of a Fragonard painting, that’s by design.) Down below is a little bitty lily pond, which will get some amusing use. Hidden stage left: a swing. When’s the last time you saw anybody swing onstage? But this is set in a park that belongs to Ferdinand, King of Navarre (Jonny Orsini), so a bit of elegance is required.
The plot revolves around the young King’s silly notion that he and his three lords should abjure the company of women and devote themselves to study and fasting for three years.
Yeah. I know. But this is Shakespeare.
Two of the three – Dumaine (Amara James Aja) and Longaville (Nathan Whitmer) sign the pledge immediately. Only Berowne (Kieran Campion) demurs, but even he finally signs, and they all sit down with weighty tomes to start reading.
Then they realize that the Princess of France (Kristen Connolly) is on the way to talk about ceding the Aquitaine back to France. She will arrive with her entourage, of course – Rosaline (Pascale Armand), Katherine (Talley Beth Gale) and Maria (Amy Blackman). Oh yes, and Boyet (Kevin Cahoon), a rather ladylike lord attending the Princess, who makes the most of his fluttery gestures and attitudes.
Interesting how the numbers work out, isn’t it?
But the ladies cannot be allowed inside the castle walls, so the King sends them a tent (you read that right) so they can stay in the woods.
I’m sure you can guess what will happen, but wait: there are more characters to add to the hilarity.
Don Adriano de Armado (Triney Sandoval), for example, identified as “a Spanish braggart,” visits the King to tattle on a clown named Costard (Greg Hildreth) for dallying with country wench Jaquenetta (Makha Mthembu). Once Costard is sentenced for the infraction, Armado confesses he is also in love with the wench.
And there’s only one thing to be said of old Holofernes (Stephen Spinella), everybody’s worst nightmare of a schoolteacher, with long, messy gray hair and a bright purple coat: tiresome, tiresome, tiresome.
There will be notes sent and misdirected, secret vows exposed and lots of word games that may be difficult for modern audiences to parse because they are based on language and a style of speaking no longer in use.
But never mind, despite the sobering ending, this is young Shakespeare at his silliest, and his goal to amuse is reached again and again.
This is a splendid cast all around, without weak spots. I confess a certain fondness for Campion’s Berowne, possibly because he seems to know from the start that this royal vow will never last.
Bravo to costume designer Michael Krass for the lovely (and sometimes outrageous) outfits, to Peter Golub for the original music and Taylor Peckham for the musical direction. Kudos also to the excellent tech team: lighting designer Jason Lyons and sound designer Sten Severson.
Marshall is better known as choreographer than as director – in fact, she’s won three Tonys for choreography. This is her first foray into directing a Shakespeare play. She’s done him proud.
“Love’s Labor’s Lost” plays through September 18, 2016 at The Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.
Tuesday through Sunday at 8 pm
Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or theoldglobe.org