BARDY, BAWDY DANCE Fenix’s Love’s Labour’s Lost.
A handful of Shakespeare's comedies are mounted again and again and again. There's good reason for that — Twelfth Night and Midsummer aren't too shabby, after all — but it's fun now and then to brush off one from the vault. One of his earliest and lightest-of-the-light works, Love's Labour's Lost, is this year's Shakespearean offering of the Fenix Theatre Company (in repertory with Waiting for Godot) in its run of free theater in Deering Oaks Park.
>> READ: "Fenix Theatre’s poignant, funny Waiting for Godot " by Megan Grumbling <<
The premise concerns hearts against minds: King Ferdinand (Paul Drinan) has decreed that he and his three noble buddies, Berowne (Michael Dix Thomas), Longaville (Michael Toth), and Dumain (Dave Registrar), are going to commit themselves exclusively to study for three years, with no women allowed anywhere near them. Berowne ventures to remind him that the princess (Abbie Killeen) and her own three attendants Rosaline (Molly Bryant Roberts), Maria (Karen Ball), and Katharine (Jesse Leighton, a man and dressed as such, a nice bit of diversity casting once the romances start up) are about to visit his kingdom, and that it would be politically gauche to turn them away. But the King insists that his court will receive them once and then send them off. Any guesses what might happen when they actually meet? Add to that inevitability an overblown Spaniard (Ian Carlsen, with a brazenly dubious accent) in love with a country wench (Elizabeth Lardie), and you've got the romantic labor of the title.
In part because director Sally Wood has chosen to clothe the men in shirts and ties (except for the sultry Spaniard) and the women in modern floral dresses, the resulting foibles feel refreshingly like a breezy sitcom about dumb guy behavior redeemed. (And the men's initial boys-only clubhouse mentality is cleverly furthered by "proclamations" pinned to trees: "No Women!") Most entertaining about Labour's is the gender rapport; the ladies are arch and effusive, and the guys' jocular banter and camaraderie rings absolutely true to males in a group. Everybody is particularly good at being smitten: "Are we not in love?" the King booms expansively, and everyone frolics, clutching letters, balancing and tilting off rocks, and plucking up the park's greenery.
The show is staged, once again, in and around the park's reflecting pool, and again the opposite slope and stairs are used to fun effect, as the lovelorn and the otherwise aroused bound up and down the hill, or as the King does a sweet rail ride down the stairs. A roving clarinetist provides trenchant musical commentary at intervals. As is traditional with Fenix shows — and admirable, to my mind — production elements are stripped down: No lights, no mikes. The actors work hard to have their voices carry far, and they handle it well, though inevitably, volume starts to fall away after a certain distance, so be sure to get there early to stake your blanket's claim.