Mad River Union
REDWOOD PARK – My phone pinged the other night, with the text “Hiya Sweetie? Think you’ll be around SoHum later?” With the missus looking over my shoulder, I texted back, “Can’t make it. Netflix & chilling with my wife.” Followed by, “Oh, and wrong number.” Yeah, my bit of catfishing isn’t that funny a story. William Shakespeare could have made something of it though, something like Love’s Labour’s Lost, the Seinfeld of Shakespeare comedies, where not much happens, but what does is strangely funny.
Evan Needham, himself a very funny fellow, selected this of all the Bard’s works when asked to direct this year’s offering for Plays in the Park. Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, but it contains many of the elements to which he would return time after time: mistaken identities, letters gone awry, stupid constables, smart talking sidekicks and bawdy humor.
Oh, and love, love, love, always love.
In Navarre, King Ferdinand (Santosh “Sunny” Hass) and his three companions, Longaville (Zedekiah Minkin), Dumaine (Clint Forka) and Berowne (Charlie Heinberg) take a vow of abstinence in order to focus on their studies. What they’ve overlooked is that the Princess of France (Chyna Leigh) and her three ladies, Katherine (Jewel Blanchard), Maria (Brianne Schwartz) and Rosaline (Caitline Wik) are on their way to pay a state visit.
Of course, the four men are going to fall for the four women, then tangle themselves into knots trying to figure out how to foreswear their oaths while not letting on to the other men, and not appearing to be faithless lovers to their lady loves.
If that’s not confusing enough, rustic Costard (Anders Carlson) runs afoul of Officer Dull (Brian Pike) for consorting with the wench Jacquenetta (Sarah Traywick), herself the object of the affections of Don Armado (Morgan Cox), much to the disgust of his page Moth (Adrienne Ralston). All of this is the subject of snide asides by the Princess’ servant, Boyet (Tyler Elwell), curate Nathaniel (Ray Olson) and schoolmaster Holofernes (Rigel Schmitt).
Over the course of the next two hours (with one intermission), odes will be composed, sent and intercepted; oaths made and broken; men will disguise themseves as Russians; women will catfish the men; locals will present a play-within-a-play and, somehow, improbably, everything will come out rightish in the end.
Are you still with me? Or are you in SoHum by now? No matter, because, really, the plot is ridiculous, but that’s not the point. The point is the mix of highbrow (to a modern audience, in any case) word play and lowbrow butt jokes, all of which are well-delivered in this production.
As always in community theatre, the cast is a mixed bag in terms of experience. Opening night was the theatrical debut of Sunny Hass, and he acquitted himself very well in the fairly substantial role of King Ferdinand. One of Humboldt theatre’s more experienced funny men, Charlie Heinberg, got to let loose once again, and it’s hard to imagine a better Berowne.
In the role of Don Armado, everything Morgan Cox did was hilarious, from a consistently funny accent to energetic jigs and capers filled with panache. On the other end of the spectrum, Brian Pike brought his poker face and intentionally plodding delivery to deliver a perfect Officer Dull. Clint Forka likewise stood out, especially in his delivery of Dumaine’s ode.
The rustic Redwood Park stage received very little set dressing by Jared Sorenson, but what was there was effective, especially a funny little attempt to turn a redwood tree into a brick column. Costumes, designed by Alex Stearns, evoked eras ranging from the 1920s to the 1940s, mixing zoot suits with fringed flapper dresses and a tea gown straight out of Downton Abbey. It was an especially nice touch to turn Jacquenetta into a living Betty Boop, and Sarah Traywick poured just the right amount of sassiness and shimmying into her fantastic red fringe dress.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is a wordy play, which may put off those who aren’t such big fans of Elizabethan English, but this production plays up the physical humor too, so there’s something for everybody. Plays in the Park’s Love’s Labour’s Lost has laughs and romance, making it a really fun way to wile away a summer’s evening. Bring your kids, bring a date, bring a blanket, because you’re not in SoHum, sweetie, and it gets cold under the redwoods. (Plays in the Park provides free hot drinks.)
Love’s Labour’s Lost runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. through Aug. 19. Tickets are $16/$13 for seniors and students and are available though the North Coast Repertory Theatre at ncrt.net or (707) 442-NCRT; you can also buy them at Redwood Park on the night of each performance.
Also, don’t forget that Plays in the Park and the City of Arcata present a free family-friendly play, Merlin by Pam Service, Sundays at 2 p.m. through Aug. 20.