Love's Labour's Lost
A Sixties beach proves a fitting and enjoyable setting for the Bard's comedy
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., May 13, 2011
Love's Labour's Lost
Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater
2206 William Barton Dr.
Through May 29
Running time: 2 hr., 35 min.
Setting Shakespeare plays outside their original time period gets a bad rap sometimes. True, in the wrong hands, an anachronistic treatment can result in a gimmicky affair, with
little insight or enjoyment. But in the right hands, placing Shakespeare's works in a time and place beyond the Elizabethan stage can open the plays to new ideas and interpretations.
Fortunately, Austin Shakespeare's production of Love's Labour's Lost has fallen into the right hands. Director Robert Faires (also the Chronicle Arts editor) has chosen to set this less-often-seen romance in the early Sixties: "when the radio buzzes with the Beach Boys and the Angels and James Brown, when Don Armado dances to a bossa nova beat, and the ladies' chaperone, Boyet, is singin' to a Vegas vibe," as Faires wrote in the program notes. It's a time of heady optimism and, in retrospect, naive innocence, as the generation that would later upend every social convention it could get its hands on began to explore its prosperity and freedom.
But while Faires and his actors may have come upon a fitting and enjoyable setting, at all times during this production, it's clear that they have done their homework with the text. Shakespeare is meaty stuff, and to perform the works well requires a deep study of the language. Without exception, the actors of Love's Labour's Lost know their stuff. They work with the words to bring out both the poetry and the plot, creating an enjoyable listening experience.
Ferdinand, King of Navarre (Ryan Crowder) has declared that he and the three male members of his court shall dedicate the next three years to study and only study, meaning no girls allowed. Given that they are making this declaration on the beach in full view of what one can only assume to be a beautiful California surf, the notion is ridiculous, as Lord Berowne (Mark Scheibmeir, in an especially fun performance, and with this cast, that's saying something) points out before reluctantly signing up. No sooner has the ink dried on their vows than the Princess of France (Nancy Eyermann) arrives with three lovely ladies of her court. Now what to do about that pesky no-girls-allowed promise?
It seems strange to criticize Shakespeare, but it should be mentioned that there's a reason why Love's Labour's Lost isn't produced as frequently as many of the other plays. The play lacks a significant antagonist to provide any conflict deeper than the possibility that Ferdinand and his buddies might break their vows. The very end of the play provides the really interesting bits, and those are over in a flash. As a result, at intermission the night I attended, several audience members left. By all appearances, nobody was unhappy with the play; in some cases, they just weren't sure whether it was over or not. If you choose to attend, take note: There is a second half in this production, and like the rest of the play, it is very much worth seeing.