BWW Review: LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST Cheers at Bard on the Beach
British Columbia is still British in more ways than one. Along the scenic walkway to Vanier Park, fans of The Bard sidle past the sail-strewn glittering façades overlooking False Creek and the craft beer mecca of Granville Island.
The Himalayan blackberry, introduced to the land by way of English colonialism in India, now overflows onto the path of island waterways and parkland flora. Nonnative, invasive, and delectable, the blackberry is abundantly wild for the picking beneath the art deco style Burrard Bridge. An awe-inspiring Coast Salish totem shadows the dense thickets of nourishing edibles.
The indigenous sculptural aesthetic invites seductively, with arms outstretched skyward. As False Creek opens out into the epic mountain sweeps of the English Bay horizon, a small group practices the Hawaiian sport of stand up paddle surfing against a lustrous cascade of oceanic azure.
Neatly arrayed against this iconic opulence of West Coast naturalism, the Bard on the Beach festival site is an unambiguous stand of red-and-white striped tents-national colors that exude a welcoming seasonal landmark visible from the beachfronts and harbor line. At Bard on the Beach, three Shakespearean plays, and an original Canadian play set to Shakespeare's life in the dramatic turn of the 16th century, are punctuated by two outdoor concerts with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
Love's Labour's Lost, published in 1598, is one of Shakespeare's earliest works. W.H. Auden, who adapted the play for his 1973 musical adaptation, called the formative work "precious". And truly, Love's Labour's Lost is a piece of drama written by a young man, albeit one gifted by a peerless literary genius, grappling with the conflicts of interest that love and individualism breed in the post-adolescent forge of life.
Like Auden, director Daryl Cloran portrays an Americanized Shakespeare, given to the speakeasy morals of Prohibition-era Chicago. The year is 1926, and the classic verve is irresistible.
Cole Porter, cigarette smoke and whisky snifters are rife on the scene as actors greet festivalgoers with blithe, in-character fun. The air is a bounty of frivolous lust for life, when to be young was also to be roaring in a decade of spendthrift dreams. Revivifying all of the painfully authentic mockery of cabaret life, "Second-Hand Rose," played by actress Luisa Jojic, sings a song of indigent charm.
The outstanding costume designer,Rebekka Sørensen-Kjelstrup, arranged all of the sequins, feathers, furs of the flapper dresses and floating chiffon, the Sacque suits, bowlers and fedoras, and even handmade headdresses. Like nothing else, the fashion expressed the vainglorious era when privileged and deluded Americans felt like the entire nation was in its 20s.
The multitalented and gregarious troupe spiritedly intoned all of the favorite theatrical graces known to Elizabethan London, as well as to 1920s America and contemporary life in Canada alike. The artful fusion of epochs is executed masterfully.
The theatre, they say, was only one of three cornerstones in the life of the people in the bygone days of preindustrial London. The pub and the brothel were the other two. The joke of Shakespeare's comedy is that three young men would stand up to the moral degradation of their times and devote themselves to nothing but study.
The ascetic challenge of the three men, which has been cause for mirth through the ages, is the common groundwork to a lifelong of travails in the art of love. Perchance all men feel such yearning, whether at the termination of adolescence in their physical prime, or at the beginning of professional advancement.
The question is one of priority. Whether to pursue meaning, or beauty, that is the question. In so many plays on so many words, Shakespeare echoes through the heart chambers of historic memory, how human beauty causes men to question their claims on the green, wild earth, and to wonder if there are other points to life than merely to fulfill a presupposed moral destiny.
Yet, in the court of Navarre, Ferdinand, "The King," and his fellow gangsters, Berowne and Dumain, determine to renounce women and other earthly pleasures once and for all! They will live in books, and books alone. Books, however, lead some to poetry. And poetry, to love.
Private confession leads to public shame. And then there is endearing Don Armato, the quavering Italian socialite with a penchant for a quick tug on the heartstrings. To his own surprise, none other than the indecorous bawd of "Second-Hand" Rosaline strings him right up, and causes him to choke, breathless with passion.
His unapologetic wiles are an instant crowd hit against the dramatic tension of the youthful, scholarly abstention. And in a twist of wits, when Princess, Katherine and Boyet show up at Navarre, they are not so easily as subject to the temptations of men as their opposites had assumed.
Love itself becomes the ultimate test of devotion. While Armato is quick to take up a three-year resolution with his new lover, the men of Navarre are suddenly reticent, and the women equally conflicted to be with men who had so easily cast off their personal commitments just to be with them.
Shakespearian language is a semantic exercise in punctuation. In the titular words of his early comedy, the young playwright points to the one of the commonest of conundrums experienced by romantic lovers. Only true love is effortless, he proclaims to a properly humorous effect. Love arises when all of its labour's are lost. Whether it is a love for brotherhood, study, or for a life partner, that selfless simplicity is, paradoxically, one of the most exasperating of realizations.
Opening with song, and closing to the sweet tune of Twenties nostalgia, musical director Ben Elliott warmed the packed house with the warmest collection of standards, such as Fats Waller's Ain't Misbehavin' and, of course, Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love. Every musician acted wonderfully alongside the superb cast of true-to-life thespians, as instruments changed hands, and the comedy provoked rolling bellies from adolescent to elder all the same.
Photo by David Blue