What I learned. . .

The most important lesson, I think, was that an audience as new to Shakespeare as is GRSF’s, is completely up to the challenge of a play with poetry as elaborate as that of Love’s Labour’s.  It is, of course, all about specificity and clarity. . .  always knowing what you’re saying, being on action, and having enough command of technical skills to serve up the journey of each character’s heart in a way that is easy for an audience to understand.

I think people dismiss Love’s Labour’s as the work of a young playwright showing off and strutting his linguistic stuff.  But there is a very tender heart at the center of the action, and ultimately the play is about love suspended, rather than love resolved – unusual for a comedy by Shakespeare.

We stressed the rhyme scheme much more than I’d done in other productions of the play and were far more deliberate about rhyming couplets than at first I thought would be possible for an audience’s ears to sustain. But I learned that so much of the fun lies in the characters’ – especially the men’s – self-conscious awareness of their dexterity with language.  It became a game unto itself – for the actors, for the people they were playing, and for our audience.  And terrific to watch the women outsmart the men at every single turn.

I also learned that one reason Shakespeare gave the King of Navarre such a long speech about terms and treaties and conditions in the first scene of the play is that it made it possible for the Princess of France -- simply by standing in close proximity and listening with all her might – to fall completely  in love with him, thus setting in motion so much of the rest of the action.  One of my great pleasures was watching Doug Scholz-Carlson and Tarah Flanagan discuss politics while becoming royally and Royally smitten with each other night after night.

A further pleasure was getting to revisit the work Gregg Coffin and I had done on Love’s Labour’s at PCPA Theaterfest a number of years before the GRSF production. Gregg’s contribution as composer and musical director was indispensable; his delicate, wry, and cinematic style – coupled with his bone-deep understanding of Shakespeare’s plays was an invaluable joy.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Great River

Shakespeare Festival

June, 2009

Brian David Frederick, Doug Scholz-Carlson

Chris Mixon, Andrew Carlson

“Love’s Labour’s Lost would have had a much different title had it been written for modern audiences – something like “It Was Just A Summer Love,” or “Love Letters in the Sand.”  Because at heart, Love’s Labour’s Lost is what we call a romantic comedy:  four handsome young men, four beautiful young women, royalty, clowns, singing, dancing, love letters, disguise, a magic parasol tree – all coming together under the warm and gentle summer sun between France and Spain.  What could be more conducive to falling in love?  But it’s rolling-in-the-aisles funny, too.  If that’s not serious enough for you, let me add that of course it is also beautiful poetry and, after all, written by William Shakespeare.

Other Shakespeare plays get better press, but LLL (as we call it, cell texting style) has some of the bard’s most colorful characters, and the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) is up to the task of breathing exquisite life into all of them.

“Director Paul Mason Barnes’ eye and ear for hilarious staging make these characters’ scenes among the best we’ve seen on the GRS stage, and we’ve seen some great stuff.

“This is a play not to miss, full of laughs and delights for the eye, ear . . . and heart.”

     Fran Edstrom

     The Winona Post

“In many ways, Love’s Labour’s Lost may be a risky play for Great River Shakespeare Festival to take on.  Shakespeare’s verbal gymnastics must hold the audience because there is little in the way of action or plot.  Small, familiar plot devices serve merely as diversions: mixed up letters, love sonnets that fall into the wrong hands, a party where the revelers are masked, for example.  But this production stands strongly on its verse, and Shakespeare’s verbal power and this company’s skill and charisma rise to the occasion and make Love’s Labour’s Lost a rousing success.

Love’s Labour’s Lost could be a Shakespeare skeptic’s worst nightmare: a play with seemingly endless Shakespearian speeches: no murders, no fights, no plotting for power, no forbidden love.  And yet even a skeptic could quickly be drawn into the language of this production.  

“At first blush, the GRSF staging of Love’s Labour’s Lost suggests the play will be a romp in the park.  A lush green grass covers the center circle of the stage, and a simulated tree with pastel colored parasols for branches provides a fanciful pastoral setting.  (And in a bit of even more fancy, the parasols open early in the play and later close when the pastoral sporting must be set aside).

“But while the King of Navarre and his court do their best to maintain their mirth and lover’s play, the seriousness of death surrounds the play.  The bare, cold staging that surrounds the green of Navarre’s garden reminds the audience of the limits of play.  The persistence of death is further reinforced by an interesting portrayal of the ill King of France personally handing his daughter the papers that she is to deliver to Navarre.  This exchange happens quickly, in a pantomime that takes place as part of a sequence of song and character introductions before Shakespeare’s dialog begins.

“This production of Love’s Labour’s Lost consorts with its audience to enjoy the irony inherent in Shakespeare’s overly verbose warning of the dangers of poetry and speechifying.”

     Minnesota Theatre