Frolic in the Park with Love’s Labour’s Lost

I don’t make a secret of the fact that I usually don’t like my Shakespeare “fucked with.” It’s not necessarily that I am a Shakespeare “snob” (that depends on your definition of snob), but I think that Shakespeare’s works are so seldom professionally produced in places like Halifax with one regional theatre and a few independents who are passionate about creating new works and a Fringe Festival which so often provides space for contemporary and Canadian productions, that when I go to see a Shakespeare production I want it to be a work of quality. Maybe, if I’m being honest with myself, I want it to seem “authentic” or even “reverential,” but those concepts are neither here nor there. Quality, though, does seem to be a fair expectation for a theatregoer to have. For this reason, I tend to have a love-hate relationship with Shakespeare by the Sea, because too often I leave frustrated in feeling that they fucked too much with the play.
I understand, of course, that Shakespeare by the Sea, is attempting to make these shows assessable to a non Shakespeare-savvy crowd of Haligonians, and that their target audience are tourists and park lovers who want to be entertained, and perhaps it is ambitious and impractical of me to feel like the Bards’ words alone are sufficient to translate to these particular people. In any case, I think there is a balance that must be struck. I’m happy to report that in the case of their newest Shakespearean offering, Love’s Labour’s Lost, I think the balance is pretty near accurate.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is a really silly play and therefore it lends itself nicely to the antics of this group of actors and the dynamics of the park itself. It is written in a pastiche of poetic styles from Shakespeare’s time which lends itself to feeling a little clunky and reminiscent of plays written by other less sophisticated Elizabethan playwrights. Its plot is extremely loose and often confusing, and the direction by Elizabeth Murphy helped to clarify a lot of the subplots and strange Shakespearean antics. I found the choice to use more modern-style dress also helped to illuminate the characters and establish them visually within their context. The costumes also suggested Noel Coward to me, which was an interesting analogy. I was a bit confused with the costume choice for Ari Millen’s Moth, who was the only character who looked like he had walked off the set of Grease.
There were several really fantastic performances that made watching this production enjoyable and at times particularly hilarious. Amos Crawley was absolutely brilliant as Berowne. His command of the language is breathtakingly superb and it makes his performance shine with finesse and every moment appear so natural and honest. Kevin MacPherson was also in complete ease with his lines and was able to express an exuberant silliness that lent such energy to the production. Jeff Schwager was hilarious as the foppish, witty, Boyet. I was particularly impressed by Caitlin Stewart this year, who played Rosaline with a mixture of spunky ingenuity. She reminded me of Maggie Gyllenhaal and within the context of this show that worked really well. Drew O’Hara shone brightly as the shy, awkward Dumaine, giving a particularly genuine performance, which Shakespeare’s words don’t always lend kindly to. Simon Henderson was absolutely delightful as Dull, utterly reminiscent of a Muppet, and Jeremy Webb was also Muppet-like (more specifically hysterically akin to Pepe the King Pawn) playing Don Adriano De Armado with a wayward accent and extra, extra cheese. The Queen of the Park, though, was definitely the divine Geneviéve Steele whose French accented Shakespearean verse as The Princess of France was absolutely flawless. She had such spunk and joie-de-vivre; it was a pleasure and real treat to watch her perform.
Despite the fact that the play is long (it runs until about 9:30pm with an intermission- during which if you’re cold, you can cuddle for free with Jeremy Webb) and the Second Act drags in bits, Love’s Labour’s Lost is a fascinating play to see. The ending is especially unexpected and the performances infuse it with a sense of modernity and relevance that I found surprising. At its core, however, it is still a nonsensical romp in the park and one that adds just the garnish a Haligonian summer’s day dish needs to add spice and delight.
Love’s Labour’s Lost runs in rotation with Jack and the Beanstalk Market (not written by William Shakespeare) and MacBeth until Sept 6th, 2009. Admission is by donation, with a suggested donation of $15.00. You can bring your own blankets or chairs, or you can rent chairs at the park. All shows take place in the Cambridge Battery in Point Pleasant Park (5718 Point Pleasant Drive) and you can consult the Shakespeare By the Sea Schedule for show dates and times.

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