By Bridgette M. Redman
Not a moment of labor is lost in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s production of what is often called one of Shakespeare’s problem comedies. Under the skillful direction of Robert Kauzlaric and his highly talented cast, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” is a comedic romp filled with the unfettered joy of immature youth.
It is a romp filled with slapstick, juvenile antics, boyish tussles all made even sillier when faced with the more sophisticated beauty of the fairer sex whose greater maturity looks upon the antics with affectionate contempt.
Kauzlaric, however, doesn’t overlook the more serious undertones of this play. He teases them out with the most light and subtle of hands, ensuring they will have the maximum impact when the time is right.
A collection of young would-be scholars have holed themselves up in the treehouse of King Ferdinand’s castle, determined to keep the girls out under the name of most honorable study. Even the strict terms of little food, little sleep and no women are unable to keep the easily distracted members of this academy focused on scholarship.
As the juvenile schoolmates, Bill Irwin’s King of Navarre, David Blixt’s Berowne, Brandon St. Clair Saunder’s Dumain and Joseph Wycoff’s Longaville make a perfect team, always giving to each other to create the greatest comic effect in any given scene. They each bring their own quirks, which are made all the more foolish by Wesley Scott’s butler/footman who responds wryly and without comment or surprise to the behavior of his employers.
Janet Haley’s French princess leads the more sophisticated yet still playful entourage of Elsa Harchick, Amy Montgomery and Stacy Stoltz. They are entertained by the boys, even while shaking their heads at how quickly they are forsworn and how foolishly they woo. Stoltz’s Rosaline foreshadows the Beatrice of “Much Ado About Nothing,” with her biting wit and openly mocking behavior.
While the nobles at play are the focus of the play, Kauzlaric doesn’t ignore Shakespeare’s clowns. Lydia Hiller’s Jaquenetta is sassy and pert, and Hiller expertly provides a subtext going far beyond the words that Shakespeare allowed her. She is sweetly wooed by Kenneth Z. Kendall’s Costard, a love made more tender when contrasted with Alan Ball’s Don Armado flamboyant desires and the futile wooing of Matt Andersen’s Moth.
There is a melancholy amongst the clowns, a melancholy that is the echo of loves not just forbidden but unspoken and unacknowledged. It creates a bittersweet flavor that tempers the more sugary moments of the play.
Kauzlaric contributes to the brightness of this comedy by turning many of the monologues into songs, creating the feel of a Golden Age musical where hope and tap dancing can hide the ever-lurking darker threats of the world outside.
David Turrentine’s Boyet acts as chaperone to the ladies, but is as witty and playful as his charges. He has all the experience and wisdom that the frat boys lack, but that they might someday attain. Boyet makes easy gulls out of the King and his men, doing so in a friendly fashion that provides entertainment to the ladies.
Nothing was spared in the production of this play. The set is framed with sweepingly tall trees and backed by a scrim where perfectly timed lighting effects created rainbow pillars around the hanging trees that provide plenty of hiding spots for kings, constables, butlers and other variety of spies and miscreants.
Set between the two World Wars, Renae Pedersen Skoog’s costumes create a delightful palette that changes frequently and contributes to the festive air in this land that is shutting out the horrors of the past and still oblivious to those which are to come.
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” infrequently makes it to the stage because the humor is in a wittiness that is sometimes difficult for modern audiences to follow. The Michigan Shakespeare Festival has managed to overcome all of these challenges and create a highly physical comedy replete with a spectrum of emotions. If you only ever see this play once, make it this one. It is a well-constructed beauty and not to be missed.
‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’
Michigan Shakespeare Festival at Michael Baughman Theatre on the campus of Jackson Community College, 2111 Emmons Rd., Jackson. Plays in rotating repertory through Aug. 11. 135 minutes. $32-$39. 517-998-3673. http://www.michiganshakespearefestival.com