Abstinence makes these lordsí hearts grow comic
By LARRY PARNASS, Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 22, 2003 -- HADLEY - And the dish ran away with the spoony Spaniard.
Other than that happy union at the end of "Love's Labour's Lost," between a milkmaid and the laughable Don Armado, passion goes on hold.
But not for lack of effort. The ridiculousness of madcap courtship gets a delightful airing in this comedy, as presented by the Hampshire Shakespeare Company outdoors at the Hartsbrook School in Hadley.
For its second summer play, the 13-year-old company is tackling another work by Shakespeare it hasn't yet performed (the first was a robust "Richard III"). While swordplay and savagery dominated the history, now's the time for jokes about swordsmen.
"Love's Labour's Lost" is ribald, wacky and musical. The company has again assembled an experienced ensemble of wry temperament perfectly suited to this play's lightness of being.
Director Jim Ellis notes that it is the Shakespeare play with the greatest percentage of rhymed verse. The words chime and echo, as a daffy story unfolds.
Three lords of Navarre have been persuaded to forgo love affairs for three years, while engaging in ascetic study in the little academy created by their king, Ferdinand. Even as they put quills to paper to make the pact official, a French princess and her three ladies are en route.
The men's resolve is gone at once. A bit of the misadventure is plotted. For instance, two written declarations of love are misdelivered. But most of what's funny lies within the bantering language, not the story.
It is as if the great playwright found his furnace backing up from the simplicity of the plot. Something had to grow red-hot - and it was language itself. The play contains examples not only of the familiar iambic pentameter but - and I credit Ellis' notes for this - iambic heptameter (an older form known as "fourteeners").
Elsewhere, the director notes, there is trochaic tetrameter and anapestic tetrameter. It all serves to help the language of "Love's Labour's Lost" float up and away.
The writer's language blesses the whole enterprise, but the roles of several characters in particular. The servant Costard (played with antic energy by the loose-limbed Chris Nauroth) is the first to get caught indulging his physical passions.
"Sir, I confess the wench," he declares.
Costard minces no words. He equates things with their names. When handed a little bounty, he peeks inside this bagged "remuneration" and decides the word must mean "three farthings." A room's "greatest" lady, in his mind, would be the one with the most ample bottom, which he sets out to assess with grasping hands.
The play compulsively toys with language. Even Costard's indictment gets a dressing-down, mocking its own legalisms, with phrases such as a reference to the "aforesaid swain."
The play's two obtusely learned professors - Holofernes (Ed Dunn) and Nathaniel (David Mix Barrington) - are mad code talkers, stuffed to the gills with jargon. Holofernes is constitutionally unable to savor an idea apart from its wrapper of wit.
He nods approval over the utterings of Moth, the little page who serves Don Armado - whose verbal inventions flutter swiftly about the Spaniard's confused head.
The company took a bit of a gamble giving the role of Moth to a young actor, Marissa Sicley, who worked the backgrounds of "Richard III." The bet is paying off handsomely. Sicley, who will be a high school junior in Turners Falls, has acted with the troupe's Young Company and with other area theater groups.
Sicley makes this Moth soar. She brings a stage presence beyond her years to the role. Her delivery last Friday was spunky and sassy.
Nauroth, Dunn, Barrington and Sicley are all winning in "Love's Labour's Lost," but in tallying talent here, it's really just the start. Teamwork is evident in every move across this company's stages. The comedy is borne high by fine work as well by several sets of actors, who inhabit little troupes within the troupe.
The king and lords speak one way to the women - and honestly to one another. Alan Dallmann, as the king, and Steve Angel, as the eloquent Berowne, were a well-oiled masculine machine, joined by lords portrayed imaginatively by Mat Bussler and Colin Sweeney.
The princess, Sandra Blaney, was every bit the king's match. She and her ladies made visually stunning entrances, gliding along the grounds in their 18th-century French gowns (the period chosen as setting). Their beauty was coiled - and their wits ready to strike. Amy Ware, Megan Shaw and Mary Annarella dazzled as the ladies.
Kerry David Strayer, who played Hastings in "Richard III," is back this time as Boyet, the wickedly funny adviser to the princess. This is Strayer's fifth year with the company and perhaps his most memorable yet.
John Dunne fashioned and sustained an ingenious expression for his character Dull, the one man given no wit to speak.
As the lovers Armado and Jaquenetta, Bill Stewart and Catrin Lloyd-Bollard were interestingly matched. The colorful and eccentric Spaniard finds love with this simple milkmaid, making the point that opposites can indeed attract - while equally sharp-tongued royals can clash.
The company continues to make novel use of its grounds. At one point during Act I, a group of young men from the cast could be seen playing badminton in a far-off field, lofting the shuttlecocks high.
All the while, this great game of language went pinging about. Chasing its meaning is great sport, with or without an intricate plot.
"Love's Labour's Lost" resumes Wednesday and continues through Sunday at the Hartsbrook School, 193 Bay Road, Hadley. Tickets are $15, $10 for students and seniors and $6 for children 18 and under. For information, call 548-8118.