Love’s Labour’s Lost, the Stratford Festival’s final offering for the current season is a terrific production directed by Peter Pasyk. Shakespeare’s verbal extravaganza is being performed at the small Studio Theatre but the company makes the best use of the limited space and the 100-minute show without a break moves briskly.
Love’s Labour’s Lost plot makes it not the easiest play to stage and make entertaining. It has language, rhyming couplets and obscure words that sometimes risks putting the most ardent Shakespeare lover in the arms of the god Hypnos. But Pasyk makes sure that there is no danger of you snoozing during the performance by giving us a fast-paced, colourful and at times exuberant production.
Oh yes, the plot. The King of Navarre (Jordan Hall) and his three lords, Berowne (Tyrone Savage, Dumaine (Chanakya Mukherjee) and Longaville (Chris Mejaki) vow to renounce the company of women (don’t even be seen talking to one), sleep only three hours a night, eat only one meal per day and no meal at all once a week. Lots of laughs in that.
Then the Princess of France (Celia Aloma), and her three attendant ladies, Rosaline (Amaka Umeh), Maria (Qianna MacGilchrist) and Katharine (Elizabeth Adams) arrive. The solemn vows taken by the aristocratic men are quickly discarded upon seeing the aristocratic, classy and beautiful ladies. To put it bluntly, vows don’t stand a chance against hormones. Oh, yes, Boyet (Steve Ross) is the high-minded lord attending the princess.
That nonet is a good start but Shakespeare adds another nine colourful characters to amuse us. The foolish and foppish Spaniard Don Armado (Gordon S. Miller) and his servant Moth (Christo Graham), the randy gardener Jaquenetta (Hannah Wigglesworth), the other gardener Costard (Wholonti:Io Kirby) who wields a blower with obvious intent. There is also Constable Dull (Jane Spidel), the curate Nathaniel (Matthew Kabwe) and the pedantic schoolmaster Holofernes (Michael Spencer-Davis) and a couple of other minor roles for good measure. Pasyk makes sure they are funny.
That’s enough characters to amuse us and more than enough name-dropping by me. You know that the king will go for the Princess and the three lords after the three ladies. The ladies know that too and they pretend to be someone else as the men approach them with protestations of love in epistolary verses and direct contact. It is a source of embarrassment for the men and a source of amusement for us.
The braggart Armado squeals on Costard for expressing amorous intentions toward Jaquenetta whom he covets himself. Impassioned love letters are sent for delivery to Costard who, you guessed it, gives them to the wrong recipients. Enter Holofernes to read the letters, the curate with him, and you may not understand all that the pedant says but he is very funny.
The wooing has flopped ingloriously and before it is resumed let’s have a real pageant showing The Nine Worthies of the classical word. You know, people like Hercules, Hector, Alexander. Maccabeus, Pompey and the like. The scene is colourful, farcical and hilarious.
That is a straightforward summary of the plot but there is a difference here. That difference is Director Pasyk who is imaginative and inventive and does not allow a single scene to steer away from the major focus: humour. The performances by the cast are stellar. Starting with the King and his lords and the Princess and her ladies, they maneuver through their couplets and iambic pentameters with aplomb. The minor characters like Holofernes and Nathaniel carry on their pedantic dialogue and we enjoy the sound of what they are saying even if we don’t understand everything.
The costumes by Sim Suzer are modern with considerable leeway for colourful garb in the attire of The Worthies. But the ladies and gentlemen all sport clothes that bespeak class, taste and money.
But what make the production superior in addition to the superb cast is Director Pasyk. He stick-handles everything with assurance and mastery and is able to take us through a highly entertaining 100 minutes with no interval.
Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare opened on September 9 and will run in repertory until October 1, 2023, at the Studio Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca