When four men take an oath to give up women and other pleasures for studying and fasting for three years, only hilarity can ensue. So is the case with the Stanford Shakespeare Company’s (StanShakes) production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies. StanShakes chose to stage it in a contemporary collegiate setting–at Stanford fraternity Phi Kappa Psi–with modern costumes, props and music as well, keeping the audience laughing throughout.
The resolve of Ferdinand, the King of Navarre, and his three companions to keep that oath is immediately tested, as the Princess of France and her three ladies arrive at their court. The young men fall in love, and soon a series of comical mishaps occur as they attempt to conceal their feelings and oath-breaking from each other.
Setting the show at a college gave director Camille Brown ‘14 many opportunities for relatable humor, including making Costard a frat boy and having Dumain (Kevin Hurlbutt ‘14) perform his ode to Katharine to the tune of Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough,” a musical number that had the audience laughing and even singing along. This allowed the show to play up its farcical elements and truly highlight the humor in Shakespeare’s play.
However, at some moments, there was tension between the original script and their new take on it–if Maria is referred to as a lady of France, why does she have a Southern accent? These questions, along with a few unclear moments or metaphors (e.g. writing on peanut butter and jelly jars and a game with reindeer antlers and water guns, jokes that the audience didn’t seem to understand), confused audience members without necessarily adding additional humor.
Indeed, the strongest humorous moments came from the great acting and witty text. Will Cox ‘15 as Biron, gave a standout performance that was completely clever, amusing and believable. Many of the other characters, especially in the subplots with Don Adriano, were fully realized and entertaining, interacting in the background in humorous ways; no actor was a weak link in the show. However, as hilarious as they sometimes were, the humor occasionally distracted from the main plot. In fact, many of the subplots were not clearly tied to the main plot, though this may be a product of the script rather than the direction.
The twist at the end of the show brought with it some more serious moments. Eleanor Oates ‘14, as the Princess, did a wonderful job in bringing believable emotion and vulnerability to this final scene. This was a very nice level change that would’ve been welcome earlier in the play. The farce was amusing, but a little more depth earlier on would’ve given the audience a chance to truly invest in the characters and what happened to them.
Overall, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” was an enjoyable and light-hearted production. There are still three opportunities to see it: It plays from May 22 to 26 at 8 p.m. on the front porch of Stanford Phi Kappa Psi. Tickets are free and can be reserved at the StanShakes website, shakespeare.stanford.edu. Bring warm clothes and blankets (it gets incredibly cold) as well as a sense of humor, for an entertaining addition to your evening.