Cupid’s revenge comedy a real lark in the park
Love’s Labour’s Lost among Bard’s sillier fare
Summer is here and Shakespeare is back on the banks of the South Saskatchewan. Of this year’s two offerings, Love’s Labour’s Lost, had its opening on a beautiful Friday evening to a near-full house.
This alliteratively titled comedy is not one of Shakespeare’s weightier plays. In fact, it’s quite silly, benefiting from performance rather than reading. But, as Alice Cooper is always helpfully there to remind us, school’s out for the summer, so you can take off those thinking caps and go have some fun in the Shakespeare tent.
There, you can watch four lads at their studies, but they don’t get any smarter for all their labours. Ferdinand, the king of Navarre, and three fellow students swear an oath to turn away from women so they can devote themselves to their books and to fasting.
Director Mark von Eschen moves the play from the king’s park in France hundreds of years ago to the recent past in a little-known student residence on the University of Saskatchewan campus called Navarre Hall.
Purists cringe at this sort of updating, but for a play so packed with topical allusions – many of them now lost – as well as song, dance and often physical comedy, the change of venue refreshes the play and adds its own topical jokes, most of which had the audience in stitches Friday night. Go Riders.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is often referred to as a “Cupid’s revenge” because the natural processes of love aren’t supposed to be interrupted or spurned, and Shakespeare loved the natural order of things.
No sooner have the boys made their vows of chastity, led by a hopelessly earnest Matt Burgess as Ferdinand and a buoyant Leon Willey as the skeptical Berowne, than a troop of four lovely young women shows up to do business with the king.
Battle lines are soon drawn and crossed by the well-meaning but weak men on one side and the Princess, played with unshakable authority and humour by Anita Smith, and her three attendants on the other.
Though ostensibly led by the King and the Princess, the two sides rally round the surging life force of Willey’s Berowne and the razor-sharp reasoning of the petite but formidable Jamie Lee Shebelski as Rosaline.
And lest anyone think the other two men and women on either side have little to do in this battle of the sexes, that’s where a slender theatrical budget and a doubling up of parts allows these others to shine.
Caitlin Vancoughnett and Cheryl Jack may not have much to do as attendants, but as Moth, friend to the outrageous Spanish exchange student Don Adriano, Vancoughnett is a delight, showing some wicked dance moves and smoky singing, while Jack as Jaquenetta, an Ag student, is a hilarious sexed-up rube in a tight pair of shorts.
Meanwhile, Jacob Yaworski and Chris Hapke draw big laughs as a professor and a curate, two quaint campus curios still stuck in the stacks.
And as for bizarre characters, they don’t get much more over-thetop than Don Adriano, as played by the frantically energetic Paul Schulz.
Schulz is a rapping wild man who speaks with his whole body while Ralph Blankenagel’s Costard, in another strong performance, is another lover who’s run afoul of Ferdinand’s commands. There to keep everyone in line is security guard Dull, played as a fool by Josh Beaudry, who gets to show more of his range as Boyet, attending on the Princess.
If a moral must be dragged from this bit of hilarity, the women must eventually show the boys how to be men.
Best is to sit back and watch Cupid get his revenge as lovers do what lovers do on the banks of the South Saskatchewan.