It’s nice to know that Shakespeare can still pack a house, even if it’s not in a park. It helps that the company is London-based Shakespeare’s Globe stage troupe to show us how it’s really done, bringing the comedic production of Love’s Labour Lost on a US national tour, with their stop at the Mondavi Center.
From the get go, it was a bit like going back into history. Shakespearean minstrels greeted the audience in the lobby, and actors mingled in the aisles before the show and during intermission, riffing with attendees and even serving hors d’oeuvres. It was enlightening to see how interactive theater was back then. Actors regularly ran up and down the aisles with some of the action going on amongst the audience (with one actor sitting in one poor (or lucky) lady’s lap and flipping through the program and hiding from the king). Shakespearean theater wasn’t some glorified, elevated art form that demands to be treated with kid gloves. It was entertainment for the commoners.
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, this company brought first class comedy to the stage in a fresh production that brought Shakespeare to life. A bright, airy set (by Jonathan Fensom), nimble wordplay, and impeccable comedic timing made this production accessible to modern audiences. The king and his three friends swear to devote themselves to study and chastity and are confounded when the Princess of France and her three ladies visit the royal court. Hilarity ensues. Men in love are just so silly. And they pontificate. A lot. I guess that’s something that hasn’t changed since the Shakespearean times.
In a cast of stellar actors, a standout was Fergal McElherron as Costard, an unlikely swain who inhabited his character in every spirited moment.
It was refreshing to hearÂ unmiked voices, as if the voices were talking directly to you with dynamic vocal projection. However, in addition to the Shakespearean language and a smattering of foreign accents, there were parts that were hard to catch. It’s a speed and speech that American audiences aren’t used to hearing, and I had difficulty in comprehending the unfamiliar script and convoluted story. It was no wonder the audience reacted more consistently to the physical comedy, and there were many chances to laugh.
I’ve forgotten how sophomoric Shakespeare can be, and this show reminded me at how phallic jokes never grow old. Despite its obscure moments, this production was first rate production that throughout history, audiences have always been entertained by both high intellectual comedy of witty wordplay, along with the low.