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Photograph by R.R. Jones
BELOVED BUFFOON: Costard (J. Todd Adams, at right) describes his newfound love to Berowne (Adam O'Byrne), Longaville (Brett Duggan) and Dumaine (Richard Prioleau) in the Shakespeare Santa Cruz production of 'Love's Labor's Lost.'

Labor of Love

'Love's Labor's Lost' charms audiences, but doesn't bowl them over

By Christina Waters

ACTOR Scott Wentworth returns to Shakespeare Santa Cruz this season as director of Love's Labor's Lost, a romantic comedy bristling with some of Shakespeare's most pun-inflected dialogue. Busy with intellectual gab and witty wordplay in multiple languages, Love's Labor's Lost bids the audience attend to nuance even while feasting on the sight of four courtiers—who've just sworn a pact of abstinence—immediately falling in love with an entourage of royal beauties. A classic battle of the sexes waged in linguistic one-upsmanship, Love's allows Shakespeare to mock upper-crust attitudes as well as low-brow gaffes.

So much of the fun of this festival is the chance to watch the plays unfold in repertory, with kings playing dunces and coquettes transformed into fallen consorts. In this able cast we can spot the principals of Othello "moonlighting" as wags of Navarre. We meet the quartet of "scholars," including the King of Navarre (Craig Heidenreich) and his scholarly lords, Berowne (Adam O'Byrne) Longaville (Brett Duggan) and Dumaine (Richard Prioleau). Just as these courtiers have resolved to give up feminine companionship, here come the Princess of France (Marion Adler) and her comely ladies Rosaline (Dana Green, Desdemona in Othello), Katherine (Alexandra Trow) and Maria (Sherill Turner). And since this is Shakespeare, the men of course fall instantly in love with the ladies, who in turn are not above having some sport with the situation.

Love's/ offers the enchanting if predictable spectacle of the besotted lords disguising themselves in order to woo the women. Last weekend's audience ate up every minute of the outrageous courtship of four princesses by a quartet of what appeared to be rapping Russian soccer players. Broad slapstick is nothing if not Elizabethan, and Shakespearean poetry done in rap would have delighted the improvising bard himself. The visual non sequiturs were well-matched by sonic gags, such as heavily reverbed gates "crashing" shut every time the wooden backdrop opens and shuts. Other sound design fared less well, notably the Masterpiece Theater processional music accompanying entrances and exits. The savagely postmodern costuming by Brandin Baron treated our senses to the opulence of royal gowns in hues of brilliant fuschia, purple, turquoise and yellow.

There are silly subplots to spare here, including one involving the Spanish poseur Don Adriano de Armado, eloquently played by Victor Talmadge (Iago in Othello); a country rascal Costard, complete with skateboard (Todd Adams, chewing the sparse scenery); two ridiculous Latin scholars, Holofernes (Jeff Mills) and Sir Nathaniel (Joel Morello); and a lisping policeman, Anthony Dull (Corey Jones, this season's Othello).

In the end, this most loquacious of Shakespeare's plays—more talk than action, more gesture than intrigue—depends upon the players themselves. And as letter perfect as are each one of the actors, there seemed an absence of collective chemistry, as if some of the actors were too busy negotiating the words to engage hearts and minds. Increasing rapport will doubtless evolve as the actors settle into their characters.But some of the ultimately tepid effect of this play is simply the fault of the play itself, which ends in an underwhelming agreement by all the lovers to wait 12 months to consummate their romances. So what one craves in the way of a richly satisfying, conclusion is deferred until, perhaps, another play, a sequel left unwritten by Love's author.

Those who crave the English language at its choicest, invented while we listen by the fertile genius of William Shakespeare, will savor this crisp and richly intelligible production. And an afternoon in the glen is always a midsummer's day dream.

LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST runs through Aug. 29 in the Stanley-Sinsheimer Festival Glen, UCSC, Santa Cruz. For schedule visit Tickets are $33–$49 at 831.459.2159.

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