Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Love's Labour's Lost
And lovely language it is, especially in this, director Shepard Sobel's presentation of William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. Shakespeare wrote his words to be spoken, not merely read; to be given voice and expressed with zeal. Under Sobel's tutelage, the cast do exactly that, with such casual fluency it was some moments before I realized it was the early modern English of the era I was appreciating and not verse, so frequently learned by rote and recited as a string of often incomprehensible syllables to an increasingly disengaged audience. With that, I relaxed and enjoyed my first viewing of this play.
Love's Labour's Lost is of Shakespeare's earlier comedies. In book form, it is a long, convoluted, repetitive chore to read. Brimming with endless alliteration, allusions and allegory, it can, and does, soon become hard work. On this stage however, with judicious whittling and sculpting, the 250+ audience are treated to a hilarious theatrical testimonial reminding us that the past is always present.
We meet Ferdinand, (Nicholas Johnson), King of the mythical Navarre, who smugly and with pompous self-assurance, decrees his kingdom is to become an "academe," and for three years all male residents (willing or otherwise) are to devote themselves to study and fasting, and refrain from social (or any variety of) intercourse with members of the female sex. The penalty women face if found within a mile of a man is to have their tongue cut out, while the men face a sentence of a limited period of semi-starvation. The king's three companions, Lord Berowne (Henry Sebastian Bender), Lord Longaville (James Edward O'Keefe), and Lord Dumaine (Emiliano Aguilar) sign the decree, vowing to obey, with varying amounts of enthusiasm.
When the Princess of France (Stephanie Grilo) with her three companions Lady Rosaline (Myriah Duda), Lady Maria (Christa Bell), and Lady Katharine (Amie Tennant) in addition to her manservant Boyet (Carl Savering) come to visit on royal business, King Ferdinand houses them in a field, a mile away from the palace. The usual high jinks ensue, involving the royal parties and the villagers; the king falls in love with the princess, and the lords with the ladies. A visiting Spaniard, Don Adriano de Armado (Jeff Dolecek), is, unknown to others, in love with the wench Jaquenetta (Hanna Cooper), who was found in the company of the local clown Costard (Vincent Marcus Kirby), who in turn is sentenced to the custody of non other than Don Adriano de Armado. Jacquenetta, tongue intact, is sent off to become a farmhand.
These, and the other characters, seem to be derived from the Italian tradition of commedia dell 'arte, where confusion concerning love sonnets and poems being given to the wrong people result in comedic chaos. So when Costard, in exchange for his freedom, agrees to deliver a love letter from Armado to the illiterate Jacquenetta, then accidentally swaps it with the love poem given to him by Lord Berowne for the lady Rosaline, we are not surprised when Berowne's epistle reaches the pretentious hand of Holofernes (Neil Faulconbridge), the conceited schoolmaster, and his curate acolyte, the obsequious Sir Nathaniel (Tim Riley), resulting in the eventual exposure of all the lovers' interests, including the ill-fated attempt by the royal males to imitate visiting Russians in order to impress the ladies. In an effort to redeem themselves, Holofernes decides to stage the Nine Worthies, in which Moth (Jess Liesveld), Armado's diminutive page, is cast hilariously as Hercules, and the performance generally is greeted by laughter and ridicule. When Costard reveals Armado's paternity of Jacquenetta's pregnancy, it is only the arrival of Marcadé (Aris Zaffer), the royal messenger, bringing news of the French king's demise that prevents bloodshed.
In contrast to Shakespeare's other comedies, this does not end in the tidying up of loose endsthere are no multiple marriages or happy-ever-afters. Instead, we are left to admire the women's shrewd wisdom; mindful of how swiftly the men abandoned their scholarly vows in favor of romance, the women chose to return to France, extracting promises from the lords, which, if kept, would allow the revisiting of the possibility of lasting relationships, a year hence.
I really enjoyed this play. Under a waxing crescent moon visible in the dark lavender sky, on a warm summer night in New Mexico, watching actors who trained and are skilled in speaking Shakespeare, how could I not? That the early modern English of Shakespeare's day is at variance with our own modern spoken English is immaterial in this productionpeople don't (and didn't), speak in Iambic pentameter. The bard used this meter to help the cast memorize the vast number of lines they were required to learn on a daily basis. However, as he did write his dialog to match the speech patterns and rhythms of his characters' class and standing in society, the language cadence represents the sentence structure of the day, and without exception, the cast embrace and delight in it.
It is very refreshing to see this four centuries old play in relative timelessness. The cast is wonderful, the costuming by Shannon Scheffler, Katy Jacome and Jacob Griego is unobtrusive elegance, in tasteful pastels. Props, sound, and light design by Nina Dorrance, Josh Brown, and Nick Tapia, respectively, are uniformly excellentthe lights in particular capturing the magic of the surroundings, suffusing the encompassing monuments with ethereal luminosity.
Pack a picnic, bring your family and friends, sit on a blanket on the grass this summer, and make the most of this opportunity. The laughter of the audience is the bow on this remarkable theatrical gift. Before I close, I have to mention the curtain calleven if you have no interest in Shakespeare, theatre in general, the outdoors in particular, or acting overall, the choreographing of the curtain call (by Myriah Duda), is, by itself, worth the visit.
The New Mexico Shakespeare Festival, along with the City of Albuquerque and Mayor Tim Keller, are to be applauded for finding a new, beautifully situated home among the peaceful acres of New Mexico Veterans Memorial Park. That Albuquerque is home to one of only 14 free Summer Shakespeare festivals in the entire country, is a credit to all concerned, and a boon to the community in general.
Love's Labour's Lost (in repertory with Romeo and Juliet), through June 30, 2019, presented by the Vortex Theatre at Veterans Memorial Park, Albuquerque NM. Free Admission. Performances are Thursday-Sunday at 7:30pm For more information, visit vortexabq.org.