Shakespeare’s labor’s not lost
Love is the name of the game in this year’s Houston Shakespeare Festival, and while the audience might expect ecstatic joy in seeing lovers united, the plays on this year’s bill only leave bittersweet endings.
Audiences are sure to find a familiar comfort in watching the bard’s classic Romeo ‘ Juliet, but also featured this year is Love’s Labor’s Lost, one of the bard’s lesser-known comedies.
The King of Navarre (Justin Doran) and his three lords commit to a flawed pact: Cloistering themselves off from the world, dedicating their lives to scholarly pursuits for three years and abstaining from women – in any form of contact.
But after they decide to forgo earthly pleasures, the Princess of France (Celeste Roberts) and her ladies, who are on a diplomatic mission, turn the world upside down for these gentlemen. The lords disregard the pledge they make and contact each of their corresponding ladies about their true desires – while trying to hide it from the other men. The lords may think that the ladies would be easy to conquer, but a battle of wit soon begins between both groups as the courting unfolds in the play.
The language itself, though, is one the major characters in the play. Bawdy puns, wordplay and odd comparisons, such as the one where women are compared to German clocks, make this play a little more meaty than other simple comedies.
The King and his lords (Matt Carter, Philip Lehl and David Wald) play lovesick men exceptionally well, letting the audience know that love is the murder of wit and it would make men go to extreme, albeit ridiculous, measures to woo women.
Berowne, played by Lehl, shines through the cast of men as being the only reasonable one in the group, and the first one who recognizes and accepts the feelings of love he has toward Rosaline (Bree Welch), one of the Princess’ ladies in waiting. Lehls’s self-awareness and solid grounding makes him an apt actor to deliver the hard-hitting question the play has in store for the audience.
Lehl delivers puns with perfect-timing, making sure the audience gets the joke, and his sharp wit toward Rosaline makes the courtship even more interesting to see.
The play is paced perfectly – not too slow or too quick so the audience gets lost – but just at the right time for the audience the get the delightfully crass humor. One of the major highlights of the play is when all of the lords, while spying on each other in secret, confess openly about his feelings about a particular lady of the Princess’ court.
Other language treats include the tongue lashing the Princess gives to the King, when the ladies scoff at the men’s love letters and their devious plot to confuse the men and the scene in which the men dress up as "Muscovites," or Russians, and perform a dance in front of them that seems to be taken out from a scene of The Nutcracker.
The deliverance of language and humor from likeable characters is the strength of the play’s rendition. But even so, the play isn’t without its flaws – the costumes. They weren’t jarring, but rather a nuisance: the men were dressed as though they were partying with Gatsby; the ladies-in-waiting were dressed like one of Jane Austen’s creations; and minor characters looked as if they were going on a safari in a lush, green environment.
But even if the play takes a sudden and somber turn in the last act, where the background sun sets and dried leaves sprinkle to the stage floor, the play comes to a most appropriate end and satisfaction is given to the audience. It might not be a feel-good movie where everyone marries in the end, but the plays ends on a hopeful note, even as tragedy strikes in the last scene.