REVIEW: “Love’s Labors Lost” at Shakespeare & Company

by Gail M. Burns

Imagine sitting in a beautiful, verdant shaded dell on a perfect Berkshire summer’s evening. Even though busy Route 7 is in walking distance of where you are sitting, any sound of the traffic is muffled by the majestic old growth trees surrounding you. At the base of the gentle slope before you sits a tiny patch of a wooden stage, on to which a troupe of remarkably talented young actors bursts forth with tremendous energy to present a rollicking two hours of Shakespeare.

This happens every summer at The Dell at The Mount, located just behind the mansion’s Stables adjacent to the parking area, where Shakespeare & Company stages an abbreviated version of one of the Bard’s plays. In past years the shows have had strong name recognition – Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet – but this year the company has gone out on a limb and is presenting Love’s Labors Lost, an obscure early entry into the Bard’s canon that is seldom produced and little known to the general public.

But I implore you not to let the obscurity of the title put you off. Director Kelly Galvin’s condensation of the script trims off much that would be confounding to modern audiences and highlighted both the romance and the clowning at the core of the play. Her actors use the entire landscape of The Dell, rushing up and down hills, hiking through the forest, and creating merry mayhem wherever they go.

Quick plot summary: The King of Navarre (Rylan Morsbach) and his courtiers – Berowne (David Bertoldi), Longaville (Madeleine Maggio), and Dumaine (Devante Owens) – sign a pact to spend the next three years devoting themselves to study, foreswearing all entertainments, including the company of women. So of course, before the ink is dry, the Princess of France (Rory Hammond) and three lovely attendants – Rosaline (Caroline Calkins), Katharine (Dara Silverman), and Maria (Emily Eldridge-Ingram) – show up. Despite forcing them to camp outside the castle wall, each gentleman quickly finds himself smitten with one of the ladies, and hilarity ensues as they first attempt to woo without letting their companions discover their weakness, and then come to the ladies in disguise as Muscovites (ie Russians from Moscow) in an attempt to assure that their affections are returned.

In a subplot the lowly Costard (Luke Haskell) and the hifalutin’ Don Adriano de Armado (Thomas Reynolds) vie for the affections of country bumpkin Jacquenetta (also Madeleine Maggio). Costard is then paid by various suitors to deliver love letters and, being unable to read, manages to get many missives in the wrong hands.

The show is opened by the loquacious and orotund scholar, Holofernes (Lori Evans), and the plain-spoken Moth (Bella Pelz). Eldridge-Ingram doubles as the aptly named Officer Dull; Caitlin Kraft plays the Princess’s efficient secretary Boyet; Fiona Herter is the Forester who leads the ladies on a successful afternoon of bow hunting; and Cindy Wade is Marcade.

As the play draws to its conclusion, Holofernes organizes a dreadful pageant of The Nine Worthies to entertain the court, which devolves into a ridiculous free-for-all interrupted by a shocking announcement. I will not spoil the surprise and let you see for yourself how it all ends.

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If it is not plain from this description, this is a very funny 90+ minutes of theatre. I am still laughing at the Muscovites – definitely worth the comedic price of admission – and smiling at playful the battle of the sexes, which the ladies win hands down.

The cast is uniformly excellent and each give charming and distinctive performances, while playing superbly as an ensemble. They really do function both as outstanding individual performers and a cohesive whole and singling them out for praise felt like picking the individual chocolate chips out of a chocolate chip cookie – the chips are yummy, but the whole cookie is so much more delicious. They just genuinely seem to be having fun out there, and fun is always contagious!

There are many challenges to performing out of doors – sudden downpours, extreme temperatures, inhaling insects during crucial lines – but none is greater for the actor than making themselves heard. There is nothing to bounce the voice off of, it just leaves your mouth and goes sailing out into the environment where it is quickly absorbed by soil, foliage, and the audience’s clothing. Voice expert Kristin Linklater was a founding member of Shakespeare & Company, and her vocal techniques form a core of their actor training. Linklater trained Gwendolyn Schwinke is the vocal coach for this production, and she and Galvin have assisted the young actors in making themselves clearly heard throughout The Dell. Because I am in a wheelchair which is difficult to maneuver over grass, I park myself high up on the hillside, close to the roadway that runs behind The Stables and I could hear every word.

Costume designer Elizabeth Magas has done an excellent job of crafting colorful and whimsical outfits that distinguish the characters at a glance, important outdoors where actors are viewed from a greater distance than usual, and helpful when roles are doubled. Apparently, it is the early 1960’s in France because the Princess and her cohort have Donna Reed frocks for daywear and Mary Tyler Moore capri pants for their hunting expedition.

Deborah Morris has provided a subtle and evocative score. I always enjoy hearing the music wafting through The Dell at these outdoor performances, and this year was no exception.

The small set on the stage area is agreeably designed by Devon Drohan in a rustic and romantic theme. The lighting is provided by Mother Nature. The Dell is nice and shady for the 6 pm performances, but sun block and wide brimmed hats are recommended for the 11 am shows on Saturdays. The evening I attended was relatively bug-free, but insect repellent is always a prudent precaution.

Tickets are reasonably priced at $25 for adults and $10 for youth, and a day trip to Lenox to see The Mount, catch a concert at Tanglewood, do some shopping, and dine at one of the eclectic eateries is always a treat. I highly recommend Love’s Labors Lost for a family outing this summer!

Love’s Labors Lost by William Shakespeare, directed by Kelly Galvin, runs from July 10-August 18, 2018, outdoors in The Dell at The Mount, 2 Plunkett Street in Lenox MA. Vocal coach Gwendolyn Schwinke, set design by Devon Drohan, costume design by Elizabeth Magas, original score by Deborah Morris, stage management by Cindy Wade. CAST: Bella Pelz as Moth, Caitlin Kraft as Boyet, Caroline Calkins as Rosaline, Dara Silverman as Katharine and Sir Nathaniel, Devid Bertoldi as Berowne, Devante Owens as Dumaine, Emily Eldridge-Ingram, Fiona Herter as the Forester, Lori Evans as Holofernes, Luke Haskell as Costard, Madeleine Maggio as Longaville and Jacquenetta, Rory Hammond as the Princess of France, Rylan Morsebach as the King of Navarre, Thomas Reynolds and Don Armado, and Cindy Wade as Marcade.

Tickets for Love’s Labor’s Lost are available online at shakespeare.org, or by calling Shakespeare & Company’s box office at (413) 637-3353. The show is family-friendly, general admission, and tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for youth. Performances will run approximately 90 minutes with no intermission, and will be followed by short talk-back with the actors. The Mount is located at 2 Plunkett Street in Lenox, Massachusetts. The grounds open 90 minutes before each performance. Audience members are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets and a picnic; chairs are also available to rent for a fee of $2 per chair.

Rain Policy:

From time to time weather may affect your enjoyment of the performance in the outdoor at the Mount or the Roman Garden Theatre. Most often the show will go on and depending on the severity of the rain, will be performed as scheduled. Performances at the Mount may be held for 20 minutes to see if the rain will let up. If the weather may cause a safety risk for you, the performers, and the staff, the performance will be cancelled.

If a performance is cancelled for any reason, please contact the Box Office within 48 hours of the cancelled performance and choose one of the options listed below.

EXCHANGE– Exchange your ticket for any of our other schedule performances. The Exchange fee will be waived.

DONATE – Show your support for the great work across all of our stages and donate the value of the tickets back to the Festival.

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