The opening play of Shakespeare Santa Cruz's 2000 season shows why love is worth laboring for.
Thursday, July 20, 2000
The sweet smoke of rhetoric is blowing through the redwoods once again. Shakespeare Santa Cruz''s production of Love''s Labors Lost, directed by Daniel Fish, is delightful. Love''s Labors Lost is one of Shakespeare''s wittiest and most intellectually sophisticated comedies. With rhyme, reason and a considerable amount of good humor, it presents a battle of the sexes that is as much about the pleasures of the mind as it is about the pleasures of the heart and body.
As soon as four young noblemen vow to spend three years studying and fasting without the company of women, four young noblewomen arrive and lay siege to their ivory tower, armed with Cupid''s arrows. The ensuing bravado of the young lords'' flights of poetical fancy and clandestine courtship is countered by the ladies'' mocking resistance to their conventional ploys of courtly love. These women want real men, not silly lovesick boys who break their vows--and they manage to teach their boyfriends a lesson or two about the meaning of honor before the play is through.
The concept behind this production of Love''s Labors Lost is both whimsical and insightful. In a play that is all about the humorous clash between different kinds of knowledge, the members of each representative community embody the stereotype of their respective branch of knowledge.
The young lords are "bookmen" who seem to have walked out of a Merchant Ivory film; the ladies are wise and devastatingly stylish warrior-maidens; the hapless constable Anthony Dull is a bumbling Keystone Cop; the fantastical Don Armado has Napoleonic pretensions with precious little wit; and Costard--the show-stealing clownish common man of "pure wit"--has all the down-to-earth demeanor of a callow, modern-day comedian. Stirred together in the same stew of intrigue along with several other memorable characters, this postmodern pastiche of conflicting discourses is embodied by an energetic and endearing cast of actors, each embracing their role with passion and skill.
At the ostensible center of the play is the barbed banter of Berowne and Rosaline, brought off with bravado and poignant desperation by Andy Murray and Ursula Meyer, who bring a mature cynicism to their roles, while also betraying the vulnerability concealed beneath the armor of seasoned soldiers of love. As the King of Navarre, the leader of the scholarly young lords, is debonair Bryan Torfeh, notable for his engaging combination of comic eloquence and emotional depth. His romantic adversary, the Princess of France, is played by the exquisite Lise Bruneau with commanding presence and sinuously elegant flair.
Navarre''s young lords, Longaville and Dumaine, are played with panache and bookish abandon by Matthew Orduna and Adam Ludwig, while the ladies of France, Maria and Katherine, are enacted with swashbuckling charm by Susannah Schulman and Natalie Griffith. These girls have a tough, smart sexiness which alerts us from the start that the boys have met more than their match.
In the supporting roles, Liam Vincent turns in a memorably seductive performance as the devilish Boyet, a master parodist and subversive servant, while Hans Altweis brings a disarming energy and sweetness to the role of the clown Costard. Tommy Gomez''s Don Armado has heartbreaking bluster and brawn, and James Newcomb''s sharp, dapper schoolmaster brings the play''s satirical critique of intellectuality without compassion home with force.
Kaye Voyce''s costume designs are inspired and creative, evoking each character''s individual essence--the women''s dresses combine iridescent sensuousness with the metallic sheen of chain mail, while the lords are in conservative tailored suits that become increasingly disheveled as their defenses are demolished.
Scenic designer Andrew Lieberman has created a long runway of a stage, crested by a tall, hot-pink wall with hidden doors, ladders and platforms. This minimalist set is dramatically versatile and metaphorically apt: As the ladies lay siege to the lords'' castle, the bright pink wall is a passionate emblem of the barriers both parties must overcome.
While it is true that some of the characters'' labors of love may not yield fruit in the end, the play itself and this particular production is both a hilarious romp and a thoughtful meditation on why love remains worth laboring for, and why its lessons cannot simply be learned from books.
Love''s Labour''s Lost plays in the Festival Glen at UCSC through Aug. 27. For tickets, dates and times, call 459-2159.