AMERICAN FORK — As the new year approaches, many people are setting resolutions. For a determined few, these resolutions result in lasting change. But, for most people, resolutions last a month or two before fizzling out. Shakespeare knew this when he wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost, which shows characters making a vow of self-improvement and then soon being tempted to break it. This makes Love’s Labour’s Lost the perfect choice for a new year’s production.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is Shakespeare’s tale of four noblemen, the King of Navarre, and his friends Biron, Longueville, and Dumaine, who vow to devote three years to study, fasting, and abstinence. Their best intentions are soon upset with the arrival of the princess of France with three female attendants, Rosaline, Katharine, and Maria. The men are infatuated and proceed to woo the women covertly.
Love’s Labour’s Lost doesn’t follow Shakespeare’s typical pattern for his comedies, and the abrupt ending removes much of the whimsy found in more beloved comedies. As a result, many directors and actors forget that Love’s Labour’s Lost is a comedy at all, and productions of the play are often pleasant but not particularly funny. But when compiling the First Folio, Shakespeare’s colleagues classified the play as a comedy, and the first printed version stated that Love’s Labour’s Lost is a comedy.
The Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s cast, though, remembered the comedic nature of the play. Whether it was the scene where each of the four men swoons over a letter from their women, or the taunting of the simpletons portraying the Nine Worthies, or the way that the women made the men squirm because of their pathetic disguises, the cast was able to squeeze humor out of the vast majority of the play’s scenes. The result was the funniest Love’s Labour’s Lost that I have ever seen.
The acting style in this production is broad and uses physical humor to capitalize on the absurdity of the characters’ situation. Although not as realistic as what many audience members are used to, the unity among the cast members in their approach to their characters was essential for a Grassroots successful production. Being without a director, there is a potential in Grassroots productions for the acting to be unfocused. That was not the case in this production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, which had every actor doing their part to add to the zaniness of the show.
As the king of Navarre, Shawn Francis Saunders was authoritative when dealing with his friends, but also affectionate when interacting with the princess of France (played by Merry Magee). Saunders and Magee were excellent in showing the growing relationship between their characters as the play progressed. Their first scene included some hand holding and soft words, which gradually escalated until the end of the play when the two kissed tenderly. As Biron, David Liddell Thorpe was an expert at milking the humor from his character’s hypocrisy in the letter scene as Biron castigated his friends for breaking their vows. Among the main female cast, Catherine Shaw was superb at making her character, Katherine, refined in all of her scenes with a sophisticated bearing and demeanor.
Like the acting styles, the costumes in a Grassroots show are often at risk of clashing. While not as unified as previous efforts (like Grassroots’s Pericles), Love’s Labour’s Lost had hints of unity that prevented costuming chaos. The four principal male actors all wore cravats and vests, though Kristopher Miles’s sweater vest was out of place compared to the more formal vests of the other three men. Moreover, the couples had matching color schemes, which helped me keep track of which man was courting which woman.
As is typical for the company, Grassroots Shakespeare Company has cut the script for Love’s Labour’s Lost, the result being a production that runs under 90 minutes (without intermission) and tells the main story efficiently. However, the subplot concerning Don Armado (played by Archelaus Bombadil Crisanto) and Jaquenetta (Nick Grossaint) is dropped about halfway through the production, and some of the other roles (like Dull, played by Madelyn Pettingill) are trimmed so much that they barely appear on stage at all. Shakespeare purists will be upset, but I didn’t mind because the cutting was focused, and the show clipped along so nicely.
Because of the abrupt ending and a sudden mood shift, some people consider Love’s Labour’s Lost to be one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays.” But somehow, the play works on stage better than in writing. The Grassroots Shakespeare Company has breathed life and energy into Love’s Labour’s Lost. Whether your new year’s resolution lasts through the end of 2016, or merely a few weeks, this production provides the laughs and joy needed to get through a cold week at the end of the holiday season.