Love's Labor's Lost

The alliteratively titled " Love's Labor's Lost," considered one of Shakespeare's high comedies, is now being performed by Southern Oregon University's Department of Theatre Arts at the Center Stage.

It is practically plotless; more a series of encounters that occur in a park in the court of Navarre in 1905. Ferdinand, the King (Gregg Land), with three lords named Berowne (Jonathan W. Dyrud), Longaville (Isaac Kosydar) and Dumaine (Brennen Johnson), take an oath to spend three years in study, during which time no woman is to approach the court. Their oath is no sooner pled and done than when the Princess of France (Deborah Jensen) arrives on business, attended by her ladies-in-waiting: Rosaline (Juliana Slemenda), Katherine (Mallory Wedding) and Maria (Jenna Johnson). And of course they promptly turn the heads and hearts of the men.

Over the years, scholars, directors and critics have paid tribute to the playwright's way with words. To Harold Bloom, the play is "a festival of language, an exuberant fireworks display in which Shakespeare seems to seek the limit of his resources, and discovers that there are none." OSF has produced the play nine times since 1947, the last in 2005, whose director, Ken Albers, called it "a carnival of words from beginning to end." Joseph Papp, who in 1957 was granted use of Central Park, N.Y., for free productions of Shakespeare, thought the playwright was "showing off."

Now Dale Luciano, as director — he has been a professor with SOU's Theatre Arts since 1985 — draws attention to Shakespeare's verbal and poetic dexterity, how he "lampoons the clever, the pretentious, and the clueless all across the spectrum." I commend the energy and gusto of his young actors, but in truth a reading of the play beforehand would enhance the playgoer's understanding of the words.

There are farcical incidents, properly played as such. One involves Bonet (Sam Ashdown), a French courtier accompanying the Princess, who overhears the lords planning to disguise themselves as Muscovites (Russians) and visit the ladies, whom he tips off and they in turn put on masks, causing every man to woo the wrong woman. Soon a courier arrives from France with news that the father of the Princess has died. So she departs with her entourage. But all is not lost. The king and his lords will have to wait a year and one day before they can win their brides.

Among other characters are Costard (a vigorous Ryan West), a capable clown and quick learner, as playing with words; Anthony Dull (James O'Hanlon), the king's constable; Moth (Tara Watkins), a page but still a knave; Don Armado, (the flamboyant Justin Samuel Cowan), a Spanish soldier and man of the world; and Miss Nathaniel (Maire Murphy), a curate and friend of Holofernes (Levi Goodman), a schoolmaster — a potent pair.

Scenic designer Sean O'Skea has created a beautiful formal garden, very French in its "feel." It includes a lawn, a mass of green foliage, and a stark backdrop of leafless trees (lovely lighting by Laura Wiley, lighting designer). The pièce de résistance is the total white statue of Eros at center stage.

Among the actors, Sam Ashdown as Boyet, dapper in dress with a black bowler, steals the show with his athletic assurance — prancing and leaping and quick on his feet — and what's more, his excellent enunciation. Jonathan W. Dyrud, not hampered by having one arm in a sling, is virile and strong. He even demonstrates his capability in a pre-play ploy, no doubt devised by Dale Luciano, who has him indulge in a little golf practice with Tara Watkins as a sort of caddy!

A decided asset in this production is the costume design by Laura Wiley. How elegant and fashionable are the ladies' gowns, with their delicate hues and attractive accessories.

I loved the piano rendition at play's end of Debussy's haunting "La Plus Que Lente." Fittingly French!

Performances of "Love's Labor's Lost" are on Thursday through Sunday, May 28-31 at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday May 30-31. Call 552-6348.

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