After 26 years of free, outdoor Shakespeare by the Sea, Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival tackles for the first time Love’s Labour’s Lost, the Bard’s early comedy about a noble experiment in love that goes terribly awry.
Trent Stephens returns to adapt and direct the dark comedy that concerns a few headstrong lords who vow to swear off women for three years to concentrate on their studies. To assist them, the king creates a new law forbidding women from coming within a mile of the court, but that does not stop the Princess of France and her three female companions, real head-turners.
Asked his theory why the 27-year-old company never got around to Love’s Labour’s Lost until now, director Stephens says, “This one tends to be a little problematic. These characters are long-lost political references, four very specific gentlemen in the love plot – Ferdinand, Biron, Longaville and Dumain,” whom history has forgotten. “So this is now dated material, but the themes of the play are actually very relevant.”
The wily princess is generally acknowledged to be based on Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare’s prime patron. “This wasn’t something written for the groundlings. This was specifically written to be presented at court to Queen Elizabeth, a very controversial female political giant of her time,” notes Stephens.
“It’s a very strong feminist play, about women empowerment,” says Kelly Hussey, who plays Rosaline, one of the princess’s ladies-in-waiting. “It’s a great ensemble piece. The women are able to connect with each other as a group and the energy from that is great.”
The Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival often moves his plays about in time and geographic location, and Love’s Labour’s Lost will be no exception. “We’ve created a world of the play where these eight characters are all on a resort together, where they can all relax and talk. In the modern day, these people exist and they take their yachts out to Capri to an exclusive resort,” says Stephens. “That is the world of our play.”
Also typical of the company’s productions is the way Stephens has pared the play down to a two-hour running time. “There are some peripheral characters that are completely dispensable,” he explains. “One is about a forester who shoots a deer. Then there’s an entire scene of conversation, not about the deer, but about intellectual flexing. And so I was able to get that across without having an entire scene about the poaching of a deer.”
It helps, of course, that many theatergoers will be unfamiliar with Love’s Labour’s Lost. “Whenever I went to cut ‘Hamlet,’ I had the fear of everyone’s opinion weighing over my head,” says Stephens. “In that regard, yes, it’s easier to cut the fat because it’s lesser known.”
As an early comedy of Shakespeare’s, Love Labour’s Lost has many characters that were revised and refined and revisited in his later plays. Hussey sees ties between Rosaline and The Taming of the Shrew’s Katherine, a role she played last summer. “She’s not as hellish, but she’s smart and strong,” says Hussey. “There’s a scene between her and Biron that reminds me of the essence of when Katherine and Petruchio first meet. Quick wit back and forth. I think many characters in this play remind us of later characters Shakespeare would write, like (‘Much Ado About Nothing’’s) Beatrice and Benedick.”
Another festival veteran, Zack Myers, concedes that he knew little about Love’s Labour’s Lost when the festival first announced its intention to produce this July. “My immediate reaction was, ‘What’s that play?’” he says sheepishly.
Myers soon gravitated to the comic role of Don Adriano de Armado, a language-mangling Spanish gentleman. “I felt like I was too old for the young lovers. So with a process of elimination, I started looking at the clowns.
“As soon as I read the script, I said, ‘This is the guy to go for here. This is right in my wheelhouse.’ On top of the over-the-top quality of everything he says, he’s the only character that speaks in prose,” Myers notes. “And broken prose at that.”
On the play’s relevance to audiences today, Myers says, “I think it has a lot to say about loss. About how we jump into things without really knowing what’s happening. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been in these relationships that we probably shouldn’t be in.”
The bottom line, says Myers, is that Love’s Labour’s Lost has “got a lot of heart. Trent has really infused this play with a lot of excitement and a lot of energy that is so much fun to watch. It’s a grand old time.”
LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST, Seabreeze Amphitheatre in Carlin Park, 750 South S.R. A1A, Jupiter. July 6-9 and 13-16. Admission free, but a $5 donation is suggested. 561-966-7099.