From jazzercise to Rococo garden: Four different takes on Love’s Labor’s Lost

In Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, four friends forswear women so that they can focus on their studies. But, of course, as soon as they do, four lovely ladies enter their lives. Oh, what to do? Romance and comedy ensue.

Four of our theater partners—The Old Globe, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and Commonwealth Shakespeare Company—staged the play this past summer, and we asked them to share about their particular production and what made it unique.

But first, here’s a quick plot review:

In Love’s Labor’s Lost, the comedy centers on four young men who fall in love against their wills. The men, one of them the king of Navarre, pledge to study for three years, avoiding all contact with women. When the Princess of France arrives on a state visit, the king insists she and her ladies camp outside the court. Even so, each young man falls in love with one of the ladies.

And then there’s the side story:

Meanwhile, Don Armado, a Spanish soldier, falls for a servant girl, Jacquenetta. Costard, an illiterate local, mixes up two letters he is to deliver, one from Armado to Jacquenetta and the other from Berowne, one of the king’s companions, to Rosaline, one of the French ladies.

And (spoiler alert!) how it all ends:

The men confess they are in love, and devise a pageant for the ladies, who set a trap for them by exchanging identifying markers. When word comes that the princess’s father is dead, the ladies reject the men’s proposals as rash and impose a year’s delay before any further wooing.

Seattle Shakespeare Company

Seattle Shakespeare’s version from this past summer was set in the late 1970s. Here’s what Artistic Director George Mount says about the production:

“Our Love’s Labour’s Lost was time shifted to the Me Generation 1970s, allowing the intellectual self-reflection efforts of the King and his cohorts to be seen through a lens of transcendental meditation, jazzercise, and self-help navel gazing. It also provided for plenty of period pop culture references, music and cringe-worthy fashion choices. For a free park show, this allowed us to be true to the inherent folly of the men’s resolution as expressed in the plot of the play, but also bring a large dose of accessibility and goofy laughter to an otherwise perplexing and heady play.”

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The Old Globe

Here’s what Associate Producer Justin Waldman writes about The Old Globe’s production:

“For Love’s Labor’s Lost at The Old Globe, Tony Award-winning director Kathleen Marshall was inspired by Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s series of paintings “The Progress of Love” to create a picturesque Rococo garden in Balboa Park. Whether it was rolling around in the grass, hiding behind statuary, frolicking in a pond, or swinging from a lush tree, the King of Narvarre’s gardens were fertile ground for love to bloom. As the quartet of lovers barreled toward their bittersweet ending, this final folly of a carefree youth broke free of the bucolic gates and opened to an adult world of responsibility and consequence.”

Idaho Shakespeare Festival

Here’s what Director Tyne Rafaeli writes about Idaho Shakespeare’s production, which was staged in June:

“Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of Love’s Labor’s Lost re-imagines this play for our own 21stCentury moment – a moment in which we are being forced to re-think our national value system and concepts of leadership, amidst a social landscape in which image, fame and persona are the highest currency.

Love’s Labor’s Lost offers a seductive glimpse into a Renaissance golden world of privileged people – young, attractive, sophisticated and wealthy. They hunt after a legacy, questing for a form of immortality through fame. What they discover is the danger of underestimating the force of their own hearts and the folly of believing that cold reason alone will force open the doors of life’s great mysteries.

The world of our production is a cloud-cuckoo-land created from an eclectic mix of contemporary influences; an ivory tower, a fortress of fantasy ripe for transformation. And as ever, beneath the ornament and artifice lies a deep well of emotion, offering an original and modern spin on the timeless notion that only the heart gives access to true wisdom.”

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Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

Founding Artistic Director Steven Maler, who also directed the play, had this to say:

“I was attracted to Love’s Labour’s Lost because of how well the play fits with our audiences on the Boston Common. Our audience skews young, and we live in a city with so many iconic institutions of higher education. I was interested in the tension between the learning that happens in a structured environment, like a college, vs. learning that happens in the real world. I also love the verbal dexterity and banter, and thought it would resonate with our audiences. I am so thrilled with the outstanding visual design from our designers and the exuberant performances from our actors that really made this production into a love letter to the city of Boston.”

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The Old Globe, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and Commonwealth Shakespeare Company are members of the Folger’s Shakespeare Theater Partnership Program.