Friday, July 6, 2018

"Love's Labor Lost": Day 5, Play 6, Theatre Eddys at the 2018 Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Love’s Labor Lost
William Shakespeare

The Musicians of Love's Labor Lost
A huge pink pig residing and barely fitting into the upper balcony of the Oregon Shakespeare Theatre – the space normally reserved for heavenly beings or musicians – along with a column of over-sized, silver-starred mylar ballons; a tilting quarter moon the length of a car; and stringed, rainbow-colored lights draped throughout the arena is a sure sign an evening of riotous, maybe even bizarre comedy is in store.  If any doubt still exists, it is tossed out the window when a Blues-Brother-clad band (complete with the dark sunglasses) appears and begins to rock out. 

That this is a William Shakespeare play is what the ticket says, but that the play is Love’s Labor Lost begins to explain everything.  Perhaps no comedy of the Bard has as many forays into the silliest of puns; as much fractured fun with foreign languages; or the ongoing onslaught of multiple, mistaken identities.  Few can boast the same or more stock characters filling its stage.  Director Amanda Dehnert recognizes that the probability is high that many of the word-packed rhymes and Elizabethan references and jokes may go way over our heads.  She thus employs with tongue fully in cheek countless elements of slapstick, Vaudeville, early TV sitcoms, and comedia dell’arte to ensure that laughs ring loud even when the lines are not quite (if at all) comprehended.

William Thomas Hodgson, Daniel José Molina & Jeremy Gallardo
The young king of Navarre, Ferdinand (Daniel José Molina) -- barely twenty, if that – announces to his three bro’s-of-sorts (who are also his attending lords) that women, food, and sleep are by royal decree going to be scarce in their lives for the next three years in order to devote their time to study.  Their jocular, horseplay ceremony of signing the necessary oath resembles a group of college frat brothers whooping it up as part of initiation, with all hands eventually dipping into blue paint to imprint on their all-white wear spread-finger signatures of approval. 

The Royal Courts of Love's Labor Lost
But when it is announced that Princess Rosaline of France (Alejandra Escalante) is arriving with three ladies-in-waiting and intending to be received at the royal court (for possible courting), they discover they must now bunk in a near-by field.  Boys being boys and girls being girls, the king’s decree is a challenge for all – including the king himself – to figure out ways to circumvent the order without getting caught.  And thus begins all sorts of sly and silly strategies to send secret messages of love, to meet each other in supposed disguise, and to find hidden corners to sneak a few words – or better yet, a kiss or two.

Tatiana Wechsler, Alejandro Escalante, Jennie Greenberry & Nina Feelings
The free-love, flower-child, and frisky-filled days of the 1960s have clearly influenced the increasingly hilarious choices of Director Dehnert and her creative team.  The all-white, flowing attires of both royal parties become canvases for multi-colored, paint-brush applications, as the young folk continually apply designs and paint strokes to their own and each other’s clothing (reminding one of scenes from the Summer of Love in San Francisco).  Composers Amanda Dehnert and Andre J. Pluess have written multiple tunes that cast and band members occasionally step to the mikes on stage left to sing, songs that have flavors of the sixties in their lyrics about love and in their refrains full of soft-flowing harmonies.  The lighting of Japhy Weideman, while not psychedelic, is certainly rainbow inspired, with even the gigantic moon shifting its hues to match the current mood. 

For all the fun in fooling each other that the royals are having, the people of Navarre are whooping it up even more in their own ways, each taking on a role that one might find in a comedia dell’arte troupe traveling through Italy in Shakespeare’s time.  Richard Howard is a delightfully pompous braggart named Sir Adrian “OOOO” (as he likes to announce himself) Dearmaddow, who clearly sees himself far more intellectual, handsome, and genteel than anyone around him.  His page, Moth (Shaun Taylor-Corbett) does not have much trouble out-smarting his master and has much fun trading barbs and puns with Costard, the stock character servant of the king’s household who brings down the house delivering a Vaudeville-inspired telephone act (using hands for phones) about the word “remuneration.” 

Richard Howard, Robin Goodrin Nordli & Chris Butler
Jaquenetta is the required, local wench -- in this case a savvy, tricky, and of course sexy one played wonderfully by Royer Bockus, who also steps up to the mike several times to ring forth in a crystal clear voice that sparkles in its delivered fun.  Armando Durán is hilarious as the low-key constable – appropriately named Dull – always in dark glasses who can often be found munching away at the local diner along with an equally hungry schoolmistress, Holofernes (Robin Goodrin Nordli), and a church curate, Sir Nathaniel (Chris Butler).  All three in multiple ways mock in wonderful hilarity the professions of which they so ably represent.

Together, the “lower” life of Navarre join, as can be the case in Shakespearean comedies, in a play within the play, this one called “The Nine Worthies.”  Honoring nine of history’s most valiant (Hector, Alexander, Pompey the Great, etc.), the play becomes one of the evening’s highlights as overhead projectors are used in tickling fashion to project animated figures.  The heads, arms, and flapping tongues of the likes of Moth, Custard, and the rest are rollickingly the background for projected foregrounds on their torsos.

The unnatural state of affairs has set the whole world of Navarre somewhat amok where natural courting between young men and women must be done in sleuth and stealth and where the feminine guests are left largely to fare on their own outside the court.  Perhaps as a lesson for us all, Shakespeare does not let all come together in a miraculous ending where wedding bells ring and all are happy.  Love’s Labors Lost is not sad in its ending and in fact, there is an uplifting, satisfactory sense.  Amanda Dehnert allows her actors x both to be solemn and to find ways to be hopeful, sweet, and even silly.  In the end, the evening still ends in rock concert style, with audience leaving probably not totally understanding all they have seen and heard, but certainly having seen enough to leave with huge grins plastered on their faces.

Rating: 4.5 E

Love’s Labor Lost continues through October 14, 2018 in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Tickets are available at

Photos by Jenny Graham

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