Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thursday Night on the Lower East Side: The Drilling Comany's Shakespeare in the Parking Lot presents "Love's Labour's Lost"

Tonight we were at the municipal parking lot on Broome and Ludlow for an absolutely fantastic Drilling Company Shakespeare in the Parking Lot presentation of Love's Labour's Lost.

Sometimes called Shakespeare's most forgettable comedy, Love's Labour's Lost went for over sixty years (from 1891 to 1953) without a single production in New York. Some call the play a mere exercise in style. Yet Kathy Curtiss's direction of this production shows that the play can be made relevant, sexy, sweet, energetic, thought-provoking, and at times laugh-out-loud funny.

Our main thought going back over the bridge from the Lower East Side to Williamsburg was: How could we have missed eighteen previous seasons of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot? Okay, we weren't in New York except for month-long visits for much of that time, but based on what we'd read, we had a mistaken view of what it was all about.

At least on this night, there were enough chairs for almost all of the audience who showed up (somehow we had the idea that we were going to stand and walk around for two and a half hours). Not comfortable chairs, but we've used them in our own apartments when we were poor, and next time we'll bring a pillow for our back. (Our physical therapist in Phoenix told us: "Sitting is your enemy.")

And although this was a contemporary updating of Shakespeare with genuine royalty and nobility and the usual "lower people" being replaced by rock royalty and nobility and hangers-on, set during a Burning Man Festival. That made the very loud rock music coming from - a nearby rooftop party? a bar? a street concert? - for about half an hour seem like it was a soundtrack.

Mostly, we were surprised at how faithful the play was to Shakespeare's language and wit. With a rudimentary if confusing plot, Love's Labour's Lost's theme, at least to us, is the use and misuse of words and their discontents, the failure of intellectualization and rhetoric in the face of human reality, moving toward its ultimate, surprisingly melancholy realization: "a heavy heart bears not a nimble tongue."

Sammy Condusta's excellent NewsBlaze article explained it well:
"Love's Labour's Lost" is a seemingly lighthearted battle of the sexes, played out in disguises and hidden agendas. For "Fame's sake," the young King of Navarre and his three closest friends vow to study, fast and see no women for three years, only to have their solemn oaths challenged the very next day by the arrival of the Princess of France and three beautiful companions. Ideals of scholarship and dreams of "Fame" are forgotten in the pursuit of the "ideal" woman. The ensuing courtship becomes a shuffle of suitors as the men, in disguise, woo the ladies who, warned of the charade, have disguised themselves as well. With considerable wit, the ladies beat the gents at their own game and manage to teach them a lesson or two. But before the ruses can get sorted out and love's labors can come to fruition, there's a plot twist which stops all love's "proceedings" and leaves us with...a hell of a cliffhanger.

One crtic said this comedy's difficulty comes because it's "strewn with topical allusions and word plays that are beyond even relatively well-prepared audiences." The director gets around this problem with contemporary updating - references to Obama, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, and the oil spill replace now-obscure allusions (or illusions, or pollutions, or whatever, as the well-named Dull, played skillfully by Stephen Drabicki as a thick-headed Southern sheriff's deputy, says in his perpetual incomprehension).

The sizzle in the play comes first of all from Jordan Feltner as a vibrant and sensuous Barowne and his counterpart/verbal sparring partner/true love, Amanda Dillard as a now-fiery, now-flirty Rosaline, and on a slightly higher plane, the slightly too-clever-for-his-own good King of Navarre (here Prince, played ably by Jasper Soffer, and the sophisticated, shrewd and kind Princess of France (Anwen Darcy).

The two other couples in the major romantic plot - Katherine (Nicola Murphy) and Longaville (McKey Carpenter), Maria (Anna Paratore) and Dumaine (Alesssandro Colla) - also add to the sly fun, and they each have the distinct character and lots of funny - and often subtle - stage business.

The cast was uniformly superb. Our weak cellphone pics here, all taken early in the evening so we could take advantage of the light, don't match what we're saying in terms of the characters/actors, but there were also wonderful comic performances by Tim Realbuto, Nick Masson, Jack Herholdt, Michael Gnat, Gabriella Mazza, Paul Guskin, Ureil Menson, and Jasmine Monet, each of whom played a delightfully idiosyncratic character. Since we're incompetent to review anything, there's an acutal review that goes into detail at, though we thought the comic subplots were about as well-integrated as they could ever be.

We tell our students that Shakespeare often messes up: the stuff about Aquitaine - here, cleverly, a dispute about song royalties rather than land, intellectual property today being more important than real property - has never quite made sense. (But we love the inside joke alluding to The Merchant of Venice, which is Shakespeare's own later addition, not a Drilling Company comment on Al Pacino.) This is a hard play to do; the only other production we've ever seen, back in the 1970s at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and directed by the actor Michael Moriarty, was truly dreadful.

As we've said before, we read much of Shakespeare before we got out of high school, and we've been teaching him for the past five years, and going back to the 1970s, on the college level. Although we routinely tell classes that all his comedies end in marriage(s), this one ends with the mere promise of one (uh, four). Anyway, we're familiar with stuff others aren't. Some people might want to read SparkNotes ahead of time. The Drilling Company production is lively and accessible that you don't need to be "fed of the dainties that are bred in a book" (or be an pedantic pseudo-schlolar like us or these guys):

So if you like Shakespeare, we'd say: If you can, go to see Love's Labour's Lost. You have five more chances.

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