Cedar City • "Love's Labour's Lost" might be called the problem play of Shakespeare's comedies.
When Don Adriano's page, Moth, says, "They have been at a great feast of language and stolen the scraps," she identifies a principal challenge in staging this early comedy.
Although this play offers the seeds that will flower and bear fruit in comedies like "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Much Ado About Nothing," it is talky, and much of its wit and wordplay are either highly intellectual or rely on out-of-date allusions.
The production that opened recently at the Utah Shakespeare Festival deftly sidesteps these pitfalls through the animated, playful performances of its ensemble cast and the straightforward vision of director Laura Gordon, who trimmed the excess verbiage so that the play firmly focuses on the adventures and misadventures of its young lovers.
The youthful king of Navarre and his courtiers have taken a vow to renounce all distractions, especially women, so they can concentrate on their studies. When the princess of France and her ladies suddenly arrive, the young men discover their impulsive decision may not have been a good idea.
After a series of encounters featuring the familiar Shakespearean devices of disguise, mistaken identity, overblown poems and misdelivered letters, the men decide to take a different direction. As the articulate Berowne puts it, "Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves, or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths."
The play's peripheral characters give Shakespeare the chance to poke fun at a pedantic schoolmaster and "a fantastical Spaniard" and stage an entertaining play within a play.
Intensifying the play's romantic atmosphere are Robert Mark Morgan's ornate garden set with its formal staircase and fountain; Donna Ruzika's warm, natural lighting; and Rachel Laritz's stylish Regency-era costumeswith their array of whites, blues and browns. Stephanie Ivers contributes some clever choreography for the Muscovites' dance.
The cast members play off one another smoothly and perceptively. Quinn Mattfeld and Melissa Graves are attractively matched as the idealistic king and spirited princess. Melinda Pfundstein and Matt Mueller manage to make their barbed bantering simultaneously pointed and affectionate, prefiguring Beatrice and Benedick in "Much Ado." Matt Zambrano's Don Adriano is zany and full of himself, and Melisa Pereyra's hilarious facial expressions as Moth create an entire comic subtext. Jeanne Paulsen's Boyet is motherly and fun-loving. Henry Woronicz infuses Holofernes with an infectious love of learning that keeps him from becoming overbearing. Chris Klopatek's Costard is mischievous and inventive, and Thomas J. Novak's Dull is a delightful dolt.
In her director's notes, Gordon says, "I'm very drawn to the theme of balance within the play … head and heart, wit and wisdom, joy and sorrow, love and loss." This charming production achieves that balance, revealing that you can't always control what happens in your life; you have to be open to suggestions.
'Love's Labour's Lost'
Utah Shakespeare Festival's charming production demonstrates that staging a problem play doesn't have to be a problem.
When • Reviewed July 1; continues in rotating repertory with two other productions Monday-Saturday at 8 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees through Aug. 31.
Where • Adams Shakespearean Theatre at the Utah Shakespeare Festival on the campus of Southern Utah University, 300 West and Center Street, Cedar City. Matinees are in the Auditorium Theatre.
Tickets • $23-$72 with discounts for groups, students, and seniors. Available at 800-PLAYTIX (752-9849) or www.bard.org
Running time • Two and a half hours, including an intermission.