Saturday, 27 June 2015

Love's Labours Lost a Bard romp 20's style

Backdrop to the current show :  As often the case in shows at the Howard Family stage at Bard on the Beach, WS's Folio script is merely a launching pad for some wild-&-crazy shenanigans designed strictly for the fun of it. And so it is with Love's Labour's Lost -- a rollicking musical romp -- that won't give viewers much of the bard's 1593 scheme of things but provides a hoot of a time anyway judging by the opening night crowd's enthusiasm.

The script was written as an amusement for WS's Elizabethan patrons and friends as a Sunday afternoon's diversion before supper. A script that lends itself quite naturally to doffing the sonnets and poetic flights of its original and creating instead a cheeky, chirpy spoof on Al Capone and Prohibition circa 1920. Put to music to boot -- some 20 flapper-era classics, mostly ballads -- with lots of trumpet and honky-tonk piano. 

The Capone-clone, one Ferdinand, decides to give up women and liquor for three years. His saloon Navarre will become a scholarly celibate retreat instead (!). Not wanting to risk offending The Boss, his lieutenants Berowne and Dumain sign on for the no-fun-fast as well. (In the original, Berowne was written not only by & about Shakespeare himself, but his part played by Billy Bard, too.) 

Amusement for these newby ascetics is left to a bloviating buddy of Ferdinand's, Don Armato plus his imp of a companion Moth. One Costard joins these two as the show's slapstick goof and clown of an emcee. They're to be the diversion from the boys' fasting, studying and meditation. Said monk-ish abstemiousness is to last a full 36 months supposedly. Until Day 2 or 3, that is, when a certain Princess arrives on the scene with her two playmates Rosaline and Katherine. 

Instantly Ferdinand is smitten by Princess, so prohibitions be damned, by rights he'll have to relax the rules a bit for his henchmen, too. And they comply eagerly, getting all googly-eyed for the two playmates. And so the inevitable boy-meets-girl chases begin. It's gifts and poetic letters professing undying love in short order from each of the three. But the lasses are no speakeasy floozies easily charmed. They've got a couple of deuces up their sleeves as well to deal out to their horny pursuers. 

"There's no such sport as sport by sport o'erthrown / To make theirs ours and ours none but our own / So shall we stay, mocking [their] intended game / And they, well mock'd, depart away with shame," Princess coaches her teammates prophetically in WS's classic rhyming iambic pentameter. 

In the end the boys will be subjected to lustus interruptus for 12 months before the gals entertain their fancy anew. The candle of love must first survive 8,760 unrequited dark hours before it can be respark'd, the women all demand.

WYSIWYG : Director Daryl Cloran declares in his program Notes that his goal is to mimic "falling in love for the first time" but make it au courant. "Ultimately, that's what's so exciting to me about adapting a script -- the process of exploring, shedding and inventing to get to the heart of the story and find a way of telling it so that it resonates with a contemporary audience."

"Shedding", in this case, meant his scissoring fully 50% of the original LLL script and interpolating not just 1920's Chicago gangsters and flappers but some Pythonesque WWI French pilot dudes into the mix as well.

Cloran's primary aide de camp in this exercise is Musical Director Ben Elliott whose serial song selections supplanted the Shakespeare poetry Cloran snipped out so vigorously : "Ain't Misbehavin'".  "Someone To Watch Over Me".  "I've Got A Crush On You".  "Blue Skies".  "It Had To Be You". "Paper Moon".  "Dream A Little Dream Of Me." "When You're Smilin'" -- to name the most familiar and popular.

Production values WS would applaud : The night's frolic works on many levels. The fact that the music chosen by Elliott is all of a genre -- Jazz Age balladry -- ties the show together melodically in a particularly crowd-pleasing way. We're all suckers for Gershwin et al regardless of age. Add to that the crisp and clever Gene Kelly-ish choreography by Valerie Easton whose ever-excellent intuition and hard work pay off admirably. Couple those features with the knock-your-socks-off 1920's costume wizardry by Rebekka Sorensen-Kjelstrup and the visual \ audial electricity gets the tent zapping with energy, no question. All of this aided and abetted by Marshall McMahen's speakeasy set on risers and floor-level surrounded by tiers of playgoers : the result is an immediacy and intimacy brought to LLL that the Howard venue always inspires. 

Player performance high-lights :  As Don Armato, Andrew McNee brings a robust silliness to his pompous part, mirrored nicely by Dawn Petten as Jaquenetta, the ditzy flapdoodle femme who's got him all hot and bothered. Best twosome across the night, however, had to be Josh Epstein as Berowne and Luisa Jojic as Rosaline : their duet "If you were the only girl and I were the only boy / In a Garden of Eden made for two" is simply lyrical : rich, sonorous, touching. Anna Galvin as Boyet, Princess's chaperone, brings an engaging Brooklynesque touch to Chicago, while Andrew Cownden as the boffo Costard is a quick-step howl the night through. Solid stuff from each of the rest of the cast for the most part -- young Lili Beaudoin as Moth a real giggle. 

Who gonna like : Slicing-&-dicing Shakespeare's original dialogue radically and subjecting what's left to a 20's Broadway cabaret format runs the risk of doing two things badly. 

Purists who pine for WS poesy and classic interpretations -- even when whittled back somewhat for length -- will likely find themselves a bit estranged from this imaginative and phantastic spin on things. 

As well, some sight gags were unnecessary and slightly patronizing, viz. Costard's dead chicken Lucille schtick + the gratuitous bra bit that was paired with it. Or the glacial pace when each of the women announce in turn the details of their particular 12-month purgatory to their lovers at play's end. 

But in all Bard's LLL is a buzzy mix of olde-&-new that brings people to their feet and puts their hands together with cheers and laughs that only proves, once again, how versatile a Shakespeare script can be when the right folks are brought in to give it the right stuff.

Particulars :  Now on until September 20 at the Howard Family stage at Vanier Park. Run-time 130 minutes plus a 20-minute intermission. Tickets & schedules for the repertory performances with Bard's three other plays via or by phoning the box office at 604.739.0559.

Production crew :  Artistic Director Christopher Gaze.  Director Dayrl Cloran.  Costume Designer Rebekka Sorensen-Kjelstrup.  Scenic Designer Marshall McMahen.  Lighting Designer Adrian Muir.  Musical Director Ben Elliott.  Choreographer Valerie Easton.  Fight Director Nicholas Harrison.  Production Stage Manager Joanne P.B. Smith.  Assistant Stage Manager Lorilyn Parker.  Apprentice Stage Manager Ruth Bruhn.  Apprentice Director Melissa Oei.

Peformers :  Lindsey Angell.  Lili Beaudoin.  Andrew Cownden.  Daniel Doheny.  Ben Elliott.  Josh Epstein.  Anna Galvin.  Jeff Gladstone.  Jay Hindle.  Luisa Jojic.  Sereana Malani. Andrew McNee.  Dawn Petten. 


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