In the high-tech modern world of instant gratification and entertainment overload, is it still possible to be magically swept away by a drama written sometime in the early 1590s?
Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” & “Hound of the Baskervilles”
Tuesday-Sunday until Aug. 27 | 7:30 p.m.
Mondays until Aug. 21 and Sept. 2 & 9
With this question in mind, I went to the opening weekend of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor State Park with my wife, Charlotte Semmes, and baby daughter, Penelope.
As this year’s production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” begins, we find ourselves amid King Ferdinand’s lavish library, a 20-foot-tall bookshelf setting the backdrop with its ladders rising by volumes into the decadent pines glowing in the evening sun. The monarch, somewhat foolishly, decrees that all men of the kingdom shall set aside the next three years for the study of philosophical matters only and thereby abstain from any relations with women during this time. As the scene ends, a feisty squirrel runs across the stage in protest eliciting the first of many laughs from the crowd during this lighthearted production one of Shakespeare’s earliest and historically underappreciated comedies.
Themes of honesty, truth, love and imagination intermingle as the party grows increasingly raucous and bawdy, wild juxtapositions of emotion shimmering like moonlight on the lake until the unbounded glee is interrupted by the sudden news of Lord Aquitaine’s death.
In short time the hapless, hilarious clown Costard played by Jeffrey C. Hawkins has violated the king’s proclamation from within his mint green overalls and is promptly starfish on the rug bubbling and babbling for mercy. For punishment, he is put under the watch of the melodramatic Spaniard Don Armando played by a fantastic Lynn Robert Berg. It’s a pairing that begets a series of slapstick mistakes and raunchy one-liners while these characters and others futilely attempt to outdo their most human of desires.
The actors are charismatic, particularly Laura Welsh Berg and Christopher Tocco, with their spot-on delivery of the competitive flirting between Rosaline and Berowne, but what really stands out about this production is the stage, music and costume design. The first act ends as the actors clear the stage in bank robber attire to the sounds of vaudeville techno. When Lady Aquitaine and her maids enter in brilliantly eye-catching power dresses and jewel-toned berets, it’s plain to see that this play features a bright feminist flair.
High above the stage, colors further flit across the sky as a flock of paragliders circle the lake on their long flight down. As seagulls soar overhead in the bending twilight, the beauty of Sand Harbor is contrasted only by the comical slapstick of Costard eating a carrot in his red construction ear muffs while the monkish Holofernes and Nathaniel beat box to the bard’s verse with idiotic Officer Dull riotously raising the roof behind them. Just as the act ends and intermission begins, a paraglider swoops by mere yards above the stage howling in delight and momentarily eclipsing the attention of a mirthful and captivated audience.
When the lights drop on the final (and Shakespeare’s longest) act of the play, the hijinks and fun only seem to increase. Ferdinand bawls as he climbs up the bookshelf to choose his next literary sentence whilst Berowne’s wails in unrequited agony, his regal necktie now round his profusely sweating forehead. When the men disguised as Russian hipsters burst in on the maidens with a rousing dance, Penelope bounces up and down in my lap with delight. If she is enjoying her first Shakespeare performance at only 6 months old, then you know it’s a veritable smash.
Themes of honesty, truth, love and imagination intermingle as the party grows increasingly raucous and bawdy, wild juxtapositions of emotion shimmering like moonlight on the lake until the unbounded glee is interrupted by the sudden news of Lord Aquitaine’s death. The maidens must depart in mourning and in so doing assign their courtiers to a year and a day of silent hermitage in order to prove their love. The solemn final epitaph is played to chords of an understudy on Les Paul guitar as the characters sing their way through the crowd and out of sight.
“The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo,” says Holofernes to end the production. “You that way: we this way.”
And so we come back to reality as the dark waves of Tahoe lap against the golden shores of our imagination. Re-grounding can be bitter, yet with this enchanting play inside our memories’ sweet recollections of flight do linger — if only in our oft-forgotten dreams.
For more information or for tickets, visit laketahoeshakespeare.com.