The new production of Love’s Labour’s Lost at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival continues a tradition the festival began several summers ago of creating a production in a fashion similar to the way plays were produced in Shakespeare’s day. There’s no director, no credited designer, nobody ostensibly in charge of the production. Instead, the actors rehearse on their own, and use whatever sets and costumes are left over from previous productions.
Does it sound as if it might be sloppy and haphazard? Don’t be fooled. This production has a polish and a sense of ingenuity that make for a merry take on a predominantly lighthearted play.
In Love’s Labour’s Lost, four scholars – a King and three of his friends – decide to devote themselves to scholarly works for three years, and make a vow to avoid any contact with women for that whole time. Naturally, that plan goes awry when four eligible women have the nerve to actually show up. The men, of course, prove themselves unable to concentrate on their studies.
By the end of two and a half hours of mostly frivolous action, the women have the upper hand over the men. But just when you might think that all’s well that ends well, Shakespeare concludes the play with a jarringly serious development that allows the characters to demonstrate their maturity and gives the play some resonance.
Love’s Labour’s Lost has some gorgeous speeches, and the cast here – led by Spencer Plachy as the King and Marnie Schulenberg as a visiting Princess, and by Zach Robidas and Mattie Hawkinson as the central romantic couple – handles them with aplomb. Akeem Davis and Ryan Hagan have some strong moments as the other scholars, as do Stephanie Hodge and Patti-Lee Meringo as the remaining members of the Princess’ court.
Some elements of this Love’s Labour’s Lost could stand to be tightened up. A long, unnecessarily convoluted sequence in Act Two, involving a pageant staged by the supporting players, slows down the production’s momentum. And the comedic scenes, while often quite funny, threaten to overdose on whimsy at times (does every song have to be accompanied by a ukulele?).
But the supporting cast is full of strong, creative comics, many of whom insert improvised lines into the proceedings. They include Christopher Patrick Mullen as a messenger who is in a constant state of flux and Peter Danelski as a mild-mannered servant who lives in fear of his boss.
That boss is Anthony Lawton, who runs away with the show with a deliciously over-the-top performance as Don Adriano, a Latin lover and would-be tough guy. Lawton, donning a military beret and a cartoonish accent, mangles the English language and struts around the stage with a wonderfully preposterous pomposity.
At the other extreme from Lawton’s extravagance is Justin Ariola’s performance as a policeman with the apt name of Dull. While Mullen, Danelski and Lawton bounce around him, Ariola sits and observes them with a deadpan expression, pausing occasionally only to look at the pipe that he’s smoking. His subtle performance is a droll counterpoint to his co-stars’ flamboyance.
With a nice mixture of romance and raucousness, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival’s entertaining Love’s Labour’s Lost makes for an enjoyable and resourceful take on a lesser-known Shakespeare comedy.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including an intermission.
Love’s Labour’s Lost plays through Sunday, August 7, 2016, at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, performing at the Labuda Center’s Schubert Theatre – 2755 Station Avenue, in Center Valley, PA, on the Campus of DeSales University. For tickets, call (610) 282-WILL, or purchase them online.