Saturday night, I took my wife Lisa and our “daughter” (a former student of Lisa’s and current doctoral candidate in English at UCLA [Lisa’s and my alma mater]) up to Santa Barbara’s Granada Theater for a performance of the Shakespeare’s Globe’s touring production of Love’s Labor’s Lost.
Now, in recent weeks, the reviews for the production were mixed to say the least (the common thread was that it wasn’t a “deep” production, nor reverent enough for some; for some too rushed; others balked at the physical mounting of the production itself [more on that later]), so I went in hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst, and resigned to only a nominally entertaining night. I’ve never read the text (that will roll around just about Valentine’s Day of next year) nor seen a production (not even the Kenneth Branagh’s almost universally panned cinematic — quasi-musical — version). I was coming into this cold.
And for that, I am thankful.
Was the production great? No. Was it horrible? No. Was it even bad? No. It was good. Very good. I was neither blown away or surprised. But I left with a smile on my face.
Love’s Labor’s Lost is a difficult play (one which we’ll discuss–needless to say–in greater detail once this current historical tetralogy is done). Since it’s doesn’t have a clear (or successful) resolution, it’s not produced very often, and thus it’s not well-known.
Let’s face facts, part of the ease of producing Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream is knowing that the audience has more experience of the plot and characters coming into the theater, so a director can cannibalize that a priori knowledge, allowing it to fill in any “blank” spots in the production (a kind of directorial security blanket). Not so in this case.
As directed by Dominic Dromgoole, the characterizations were broad and not very subtle, but the performances were solid (though some of the actors’ voices carried better than others)… and the actors were directed to use as much of their bodies (bawdies) as possible to convey their meaning. This makes for a physical play (one that became more and more physical as the night wore one… to the point of a climactic food fight near the end). And given the amount of wordplay in the text (or at least the amount I could gather in a first listen), that’s a good thing.
The staging was simple, very Globe-like, with a raised loft area, a recessed area, and multiple pathways for entrances and exits (including through the audience). The thrust stage allowed for no curtain, and to accentuate the feeling of the old Globe Theatre, the house lights were left on throughout the play. The costuming was in period, a kind of faux-Elizabethan, I suppose, and it worked for me. (Yes, as a guy, I could have gone for more heaving bodices–I’m a scholar, I ain’t dead–but since the four main female characters were French aristocrats, I wasn’t expecting Liz Taylor-in-Taming-type bustlines)
Last year’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Twlefth Night in NYC with Anne Hathaway has been noted as a great example of this… I didn’t see that production, but I have purchased the soundtrack, however, and it is wonderful.
The use of music in the play, performed live onstage (usually from the upper loft area) was as well-integrated as I’ve heard in a long time.
Was the play comprehensible? Yes, though not comprehensive (that whole “not deep” criticism). But I did laugh… and for a comedy, isn’t that what really matters?
I’m going to cut this review short here. I’ll hit all of these points in greater detail in a later podcast (hopefully, this week’s, but who knows), but suffice to say, I recommend the tour, which continues in Southern California and New England through the end of December.