December 10th, 2009

La Loge

Love's Labors Lost in Translation

Last night, we took a young friend visiting from Maine to the Globe production of Love's Labors Lost currently playing at the Pace University Theatre.

It was very, very pretty to look at. The slightly thrust stage was stenciled with green patterns to suggest a formal French garden parterre, and there were hangings of beautifully stylized trees in leaf and berry, and a castle-like structure behind, with a balcony upon which the live concert of early musicians tootled, drummed, and strummed pieces I've known forever but haven't listened to in a while (which I really have to rectify, real soon now). The costumes could best be described as scrumptious, shimmering taffeta bodices and gowns over embroidered petticoats for the Princess and her ladies, and fetching little caps with feathers perched on the sides of their heads. The gentlemen's taffeta doublets and hose were complimentary to their ladies. And Armando was brighter than all of them in multi-colored slashed sleeves and a hat that Cyrano would have died to own.

There were two actors manipulating wonderful deer puppets, too, who acted out the artless subtext of this excessively artificial play very charmingly. The whole theatre gasped when the Princess shot the hart (or pricket--you can imagine the ensuing jokes) and it fell into a stagehands arms and was carried off, head bouncing pathetically.

And the play itself? Opinion varies. What is a matter of fact is that in a play that's all about language, and that language archaic, dense, and highly rhetorically flourished, giving the characters strong accents--Welsh accent (Berowne--home-grown), a broad country burr (Costard--assumed), a Spanish accent (Armando), 4 comic Russian accents, and whatever the hell weird churchly accent Holofernes was giving his Latin--is going to ensure that some part of the audience is going to be lost pretty much all of the time. I know this play pretty well, and I couldn't follow Holofernes or Armando for little green apples. Except, of course, when someone made a dirty joke, when the inevitable mime left not a doubt of the, er, thrust of the wordplay. Nothing, but nothing, dates like scatological and sexual slang, so the mime was absolutely necessary to anyone who did not waste 4 years of their lives in graduate school, pouring over Eric Partridge's Shakespeare's Bawdy.

But I digress.

I liked it better than Ellen did. She found the Princess and her ladies humorless and mean, their bating of their hapless wooers less playful than cruel. It is true that they didn't seem to be having as much fun as the men were. Also, they didn't seem to like each other all that much, where the King and his companions were very companionable. Which was all true enough--it just didn't bother me as much as it bothered her. I was chiefly struck by Shakespeare's gleeful explosion of all the tropes of romance. Jack not only does not get Jill, you get the distinct impression that Jill despises him. The task that the ladies give their lovers is to face a reality which they're little suited to deal with. Berowne's got some emotional common sense--I can see him succeeding in jesting for a year in a hospital, if only out of pride. But I wonder if he'd still want Rosalind at the end of it.

Which is not what I usually am thinking about at the end of Love's Labors Lost. This production seemed to make it a darker play than I'd remembered it--which isn't a bad thing, just disconcerting. The other disconcerting thing was that I'd somehow got it into my head (probably wishful thinking) that this was an Old Use production, with men playing the women's parts. And then the Princess came on with considerable clevage above her flat-bodied gown, and I knew I'd been wrong. Sorrow. I love Old Use productions.