William Shakespeare’s early comedy “Love’s Labour’s Lost” could be considered a forgotten masterpiece. The play has long had a reputation for being inaccessible due to its references and jokes that are widely viewed as arcane by modern audiences.
In a production by Penn State Centre Stage, however, the timeless story of the game of love is brought to life by the exuberance of the actors, musical instruments and physical comedy.
The play, which, in Centre Stage’s production, is set in 1914 on a lavish estate in Providence, R.I., opens with King Ferdinand (Steve Broadnax) and his three noble companions, Berowne (Brandon Carter), Dumaine (Mark Blashford) and Longaville (Michael Pilato), taking an oath to devote themselves to three years of study and promising to forswear the company of women.
Berowne reminds the king that the Princess of France and her three ladies are coming to the estate and it would be foolish to agree to this law. The king denies what Berowne says, insisting that the ladies make their camp in the field outside of his court. The men are instantly smitten, and they launch a plan to win the ladies’ hearts.
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” is most engaging when it focuses on the battle of wits between the king and his men and the Princess and her ladies. Stand-out performances come from Carter and Kenzie Ross as Rosaline, who bring a razor-sharp edge to their banter.
The main story is assisted by several humorous subplots. One story involves a Spanish soldier, Armado (Alberto Sebastian Arroyo), who tries to woo a wench. That plot, and the production, is enhanced by the use of musical instruments, including clarinet, ukulele and piano, which are played by the actors.
The real joy of the play, however, is the verbal sparring among the characters, the puns and double entendres punctuated by physical comedy. The actors demonstrate and maintain a connection with each other and the audience. The actors’ facial expressions and gestures, along with the music, bring the words to glorious life.
Despite the witty wordplay and hijinks, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” ends on a sober note and makes a statement about what love really means. It’s not all just fun and games — as the title suggests, love requires hard work and sacrifice.
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” may not have the same cultural cachet as other, more well-known Shakespeare comedies such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
However, the exuberance of the characters in “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” along with the wordplay and poignant ending, lend the play a unique appeal. Those who attend the Centre Stage production may leave the theater wondering why they had never before saw or read the Shakespeare comedy.