Penn State Centre Stage makes much ado over “Love’s Labour’s Lost’

When most people think about William Shakespeare’s comedies, they tend to focus on the most popular ones — “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Twelfth Night” or “Much Ado About Nothing.” Starting next week, theatergoers will have a chance to see a play that has often been a forgotten gem in the Shakespeare canon.

Penn State Centre Stage will complete its 27th season with a presentation of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” directed by Edward Stern, at the Pavilion Theatre. The 18 cast members will bring a unique element to the show by playing original music on their own musical instruments, including clarinet, saxophone, ukulele and harmonica.

“Love’s Labour’s Lost” is one of Shakespeare’s early comedies, believed to have been written in the mid-1590s and first published in 1598. In the play, the King of Navarre and his men take an oath to devote their lives to scholarship — without the company of women. A crimp in their plan arrives in the form of the Princess of France and her three ladies-in-waiting. Instantly, all of the men fall in love and humorous sub-plots ensue.

“It becomes a contest of one-upping one another,” said Dre Parker, a Penn State MFA student who plays the Princess of France. “It’s a question of, can love really happen in a day?”

Stern, who was producing artistic director of the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for 20 years, said “Love’s Labour’s Lost” was rarely produced in the 17th and 18th centuries. The play was viewed as “problematic” in the sense that the wordplay and dialogue were thought to be “too smart, too clever.” However, in the past 10 to 15 years, there has been a revival of the play as critics and audiences have come to appreciate the witty dialogue and strength of the characters, as well as a “surprising ending.”

“I think there has been a real re-evaluation to the play’s favor,” Stern said. “It really has a wealth of characters.”

Rather than staging a traditional interpretation of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” Penn State Centre Stage is setting the story in 1914 in a “surrealistic version of Newport, R.I.,” according to costume designer Lindsey Eastman. Stern said he wanted the play to have an American setting, as he didn’t want audience members to “feel like the play is too foreign.” In addition, he said, in the period right before the U.S. entered World War I, “there really was this age of innocence in America,” which he thinks is synonymous with the “exuberant innocence” of the characters in the play.

The music that will be performed by the actors, Stern said, is intended to underscore or express parts of the characters as well as further involve the audience in the experience of the play.

“It takes on a kind of singularity, it takes on an event that’s kind of happening right now,” he said.

Several of the actors in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” said they felt a strong connection to their characters and to the play as a whole.

Alberto Sebastian Arroyo, a sophomore at Penn State, plays Don Adriano de Armado, a Spaniard who is invited to King Navarre’s group with the “intention of making them laugh and have a good time.”

As a native of Ecuador, Arroyo said he related to his character’s outsider status.

“He’s a character of many colors,” he said.

Brandon Carter, a MFA student, plays Berowne, a “ladies’ man” who rebels against the oath that the men have taken. His character is in some ways a voice of reason, he said, because he realizes that the pact to stay away from women and focus solely on studying is unrealistic.

“You need balance in your life,” he said.

“Love’s Labour’s Lost” is not a traditional comedy, Parker said, but audiences will relate to it because of its true-to-life message.

“This is not a play about happy endings,” she said. “It’s a play about the reality of life.”

Penn State School of Theatre’s production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 and 14 (previews); 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 (opening night); 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16, 19 and 20-23; and 2 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Pavilion Theatre, University Park. Visit www.theatre.psu.edu or call 800-0255 for more information.