In `Lost,' fun belongs mostly to the director

Shakespeare's words are not well served in Chesapeake company effort


November 10, 2006|By William Hyder | William Hyder,special to the sun

It is common these days for directors to shift the action of a play or an opera from the original location or historical period to a different one.

This is the case with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's production of the romantic comedy Love's Labor's Lost, which runs through Nov. 19 at Howard County Center for the Arts.

In the program, director Jenny Leopold writes, "I chose a contemporary setting for this production in order to make the play more accessible and to highlight the timelessness of some of [the script's] issues."

As Shakespeare tells the story, the King of Navarre (Jacob Rothermel) vows to withdraw from society for three years. He plans to live a Spartan life, eat simply, study scholarly books and avoid attachments - especially with women.

He wants his three courtiers, Biron (Bob Alleman), Longaville (Scott Alan Small) and Dumain (Jim Raistrick), to sign the oath with him.

Biron (pronounced Berowne and spelled that way in some versions of the script) thinks the project is foolish and says so, but he agrees to sign. Secretly, he suspects the others won't be able to keep their oaths for very long.

He's right.

The Princess of France (Anne Nottage) arrives on a mission on behalf of her father, the king. Conveniently for the plot, she has brought three noble ladies with her: Rosaline (Diana Cherkas), Maria (Ashly Ruth Fishell) and Katharine (Charlene Smith).

Navarre tries to keep his contact with the princess distant and formal, but he immediately falls in love with her. His three noblemen fall for her companions.

Mindful of their oaths, the four men are anxious to hide these feelings from one another. And so the complications begin.

Leopold sets the play in the present day, in what seems to be a resort or spa somewhere in the American boondocks. She writes, "Shakespeare's portrayal of women in the play makes for an easeful transition into the 21st century. The women are given power ... the princess visits the Court of Navarre on a diplomatic mission. ..."

That kind of power, as Shakespeare knew, implies dignity in the people who wield it. His dialogue amply supplies it.

Dignity is not much valued in our time. The giggling women in this production - they're supposed to be a princess and three noblewomen, remember - have none.

Neither have the king and his noblemen, who behave with the boisterousness of bowling buddies watching football on TV. (In some scenes they wear polo shirts with TEAM NAVARRE printed on the back.)

The idea is to show that Shakespeare can be fun, but the fun here is not so much Shakespeare's as the director's.

Presumably because of a shortage of male actors, women are cast in several men's parts. Karen Beriss portrays the page boy, Moth. Dull, a constable, is played by Lorraine Imwold as a female security guard. Boyet, a nobleman who serves as aide to the princess, becomes an androgynous character in Kelli Biggs' performance.

Several male characters are omitted. The loss of Holofernes, the Latin-quoting schoolmaster, and Sir Nathaniel, the wordy curate, means the loss of several comic scenes.

Steve Beall plays the extravagant Spaniard, Don Armado, in a Mexican shirt and an accent that comes and goes.

Rebecca Ellis and Scott D. Farquhar put on thick country accents as a couple of peasants called Jacquenetta and Costard.

Farquhar, playing Costard as a bearded good old boy in overalls and baseball cap, turns in the most enjoyable performance of the evening.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's productions have been successful because they have made the action of the plays clear. The actors and directors, paying careful attention to movement, business, gestures and inflections, have worked to put across the meaning of dialogue that is often obscure today. But the company has never been strong on projecting the beauty of Shakespeare's language.

Love's Labor's Lost has little action, and the language is more important than the story. The script glitters with brilliant declamations and exchanges, simple and elaborate puns, all couched in poetic and musical English.

The hardworking actors do a good job of carrying out the director's concepts, but Shakespeare's words are not well served.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company presents Shakespeare's "Love's Labor's Lost" at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 19 at Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City. Reservations: 866-811-4111, or www.

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