So…another day has come to its conclusion here in sunny, stunning Stratford. We persist in our notions of never leaving…or, at the very least, of returning as often as possible with the view to one day owning a writers’ retreat. The energy here is astounding; an entire town pretty much devoted to theater–and culture in general. Not to mention the saga of Bonnie and her cheating cob (a male swan), Clyde, which…is…priceless. It’s worth the price of admission, at the very least.
But I prevaricate (as I always do when I’m the one doing the typing); there is much for us to regale. We promise, however, to be briefer today than we were yesterday (though, truth be told, we read yesterday’s and realized it just couldn’t capture the feeling). So…onward to Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Again, we choose bullet points to best organize our thoughts.
-First off…surprise! We really liked it. It was quite enjoyable. As one of the performers put it earlier that day as we sat in a forum, it is “Shakespeare’s version of Seinfeld.” Put simply, it is a play about nothing, but full of many things that make it worth while.
-As with Hamlet, the technical aspects of this play were absolutely flawless. The use of light (I am informed by my other half that the use of gobos in the second act was particularly tasteful), sound, and set were well suited to the play and to the theater, taking full advantage of the space and adding to the performance. In fact, the use of music throughout–there are a lot more songs in this version than in the play itself–really added to the magic of the afternoon. I liked the composition of the music, myself; as the play is set in Navarre, it had a Spanish flair that added character to everything. In the second act, lanterns magically appeared and turned the stage into a nighttime wonderland. For a play that doesn’t have much of a plot, the ability of the technical team to transport the audience to this other world really helped sell the performance.
-Also like Hamlet, the actors managed to draw humor from every possible word, movement, and situation. Somehow we missed (in not reading the play like we said we would…many pardons do we humbly seek of thee, dear reader) the fact that Shakespeare literally calls someone a dick in this play. Do you know who didn’t miss that fact? The director and the actor playing Berowne, who shouted it to great effect. The whole team behind this production seemed to know that the play’s language was particularly dense, its less obvious jokes liable to fly way over the heads of the audience (present company included), so they decided to milk everything they could to turn a difficult and Seinfieldian play into an uproarious occasion. They were particularly adept at finding all of Shakespeare’s sex and fat jokes and calling all the attention to them.
-The wig. Don Armado’s wig gets its own point before any of the actors because it is the real star of the show. To describe it in mere words cannot do justice to its grandeur, but we shall attempt the endeavor. Picture it…three loose spikes of hair, one atop his head and one each behind his ears, standing at least a foot tall. What’s more, the costuming people decided to hide it beneath a hat (that had no top, so as not to crush this unicorn of a wig) upon the character’s entrance, allowing for the glorious revelation and big laughs. It was, indeed, the centerpiece of this performance.
-The man upon which it sat was also a star. We saw him as the Player King in yesterday’s performance and today’s was utter comedic genius. His accent, his movements, his delivery, his ability to play with the child actor, his costume…Don Armado was quite obviously as much fun for him to play as it was for us to watch. Kudos, sir; we owe thee much.
-Did we happen to mention yesterday that the actor playing Polonius is in all three of our planned theatrical endeavors? The man is in three Shakespeare plays in one season! And as brilliant as he was yesterday, he was equally brilliant today. His facility with the language–and his character, Holofernes, has much difficult language to speak–and physical performance again blew us away. As far as we are concerned, the man can do no wrong. When we return next year (and we *will* return next year), we shall seek him out because we know any play he’s in is bound to be good. (It should also be noted that he and the actor playing Don Armado were the two gentlemen who so kindly answered audience questions at the forum this morning. Our greatest sadness from this journey–aside from the fact that it must end–is in not knowing that this free forums existed earlier.)
-The stand out performance for us today was absolutely Berowne. Aside from the fact that he was the one who got to shout “SOME DICK!” at the top of his lungs, he was the (human) star of this performance (again…the wig). Obviously, his character is the star of this play insofar as there is a star, but the actor brought real depth and sparkling lightness all at once. His inspired use of the set, his voice, his body…all of it was outstanding. He brings a…sassy quality to the character that we recognized from yesterday’s scarf toss as Laertes; of all the actors on that stage, his wit was truly rapier sharp. When he spoke the lines, they felt like part of a war of words and when he wanted to make the audience laugh, he made us laugh. Basically, we were puppets and he was the master. The fact that he handed one of Berowne’s poems to an audience member and collected it later just encapsulates his playfulness (as does, again, shouting “Some dick!”, which really amused us). Well done, sir.
-Brief shout out to the actor playing Dumaine for his handless cartwheels (which my other half has dutifully informed me are actually called aerials) while reciting Shakespeare. Also, damn you sir for being able to do that and not lose your breath. Shakespeare and gymnastics?! ARE YOU INSANE?!
All-in-all, this was a damn fine performance. Perhaps not enough to turn us into rampant Love’s Labour’s Lost fangirls, but certainly enough that we would enjoy seeing this particular staging again. Especially because Polonius/Holofernes can SING. He informed us he only does musicals like once a decade and, for the life of us, we cannot figure out why. He is amazing. Also, Berowne had fabulous hair.
STRATFORD BONUS ROUND ACTIVATED.
We got bored. We bought rush tickets. We saw She Stoops to Conquer, which is a farcical Restoration comedy by Oliver Goldsmith. Now, it is exceedingly difficult to jump from two days of Shakespeare into Restoration comedy, where much of the humor lies in the restraint and the comedy of manners that unfolds on stage. This was, of course, a product of the time in which the play was written, but very different from bawdy Shakespeare and certainly alien to modern audiences. They made very good use of the comedy that was there in the script and also in adding some modern emotional touches where they could, but because of the restraint necessary in giving a true, Restoration feel to the performance (which this production definitely chose to do), they were very limited in what they could add or change. This is not to say that the production was bad–far from it. In fact, we both liked it very much; we especially loved Tony, the buffoon and thus the least restricted by the style and period. But, having come from Shakespeare, our minds were just not in the right place to appreciate the slow, meandering, controlled pace of this play, so we didn’t enjoy it as much as what we had already seen. But I wouldn’t say we were disappointed. As in all of Stratford’s productions, however, many props and kudos to the technical department; y’all turned it out!
And that is it from day two of Stratford! We have been your hosts for this evening! Until tomorrow, when we bring you The Taming of the Shrew (and…maybe something else…)
–C and A