What happens when King Ferdinand of Navarre and his three companions decide to improve themselves by dedicating three years to study and fasting, forswearing women by forbidding any member of the fair sex from coming within a mile of the court? A challenging prospect in the best of circumstances, but when the Princess of France and her three ladies arrive on a state visit to discuss the secession of Aquitaine, the scholars' masculine resolve is sorely tested.
So opens North Coast Repertory Theatre's open-air production of Love's Labour's Lost at Redwood Park. The twists and turns of this fast-paced farce bear some untangling — spoilers ahead (if you can spoil a play that's more than 400 years old).
Don Adriano de Armado, a Spanish nobleman visiting the court, catches the rustic Costard in a tryst with the wench Jaquenetta and turns him in to the King for breaking the 1-mile rule. Plot twist No. 1: The Don is also enamored of the wench and sends an unknowing Costard off with a love letter for Jaquenetta.
So that the decree does not interfere with matters of state, the King agrees to meet with the Princess at her encampment outside the court. Plot twists No. 2 and No. 3: The King falls for the Princess and his companions fall for the ladies. Fickle creatures that they are, the men convince themselves that what they have actually been studying is love and dispatch carefully composed declarations of adoration to the ladies.
Plot twist No. 4: various letters get mixed up and misdelivered, resulting in plot twist No 5: Both ladies and gentlemen don disguises to hide their identities while broadcasting their passions. The play itself ends with unexpected plot twist No. 6: The gentlemen must prove themselves by waiting a year before any declarations of love can be consummated by marriage. Whether any will abide by this is up for speculation; as one of the gentlemen declares, "12 months and a day is too long for a play."
Santosh Hass as King Ferdinand, along with his companions Berowne (Charlie Heinberg), Dumain (Clint Forka), and Longaville (Zedekiah Minkin), all turn in nicely timed performances. Heinberg has a long history of performing Shakespeare in Humboldt, and displayed a masterful command of the play's sometimes complex language, but his fellow noblemen more than kept pace with him.
As the Princess of France, Chyna Leigh was at times hard to hear; hopefully her projection skills will improve as the run continues, as she does have a deft touch with the pointed one-liners. Her ladies — Jewel Blanchard as Katherine, Brianna Schatz as Maria and Caitlin Wik as Rosaline — deliver excellent performances on their 16th-century equivalent of a giggling girls' night out.
Anders Carlson is wonderfully entertaining as Costard, alternating between confusion and collusion, while his erstwhile paramour Jaquenetta is played with fun and flirtatiousness by Sarah Traywick. But the comic stars of this production are Morgan Cox as Don Adriano de Armado and Adrienne Ralsten as his page Moth. Cox's portrayal is a comedic masterpiece, complete with over-the-top accent and exaggerated gestures, and Ralsten is a delightful foil, tossing tidbits of tattletale-ing to the audience as he attempts to keep up with his lovesick master.
Rounding out the cast are Tyler Elwell as the Princess's attendant Boyet, Brian Pike as the aptly named Officer Dull ("I am Dull"), Ray Olson as the curate Sir Nathaniel, who attempts to bring some gravitas to the proceedings, and Rigel Schmitt in an almost-perfect impersonation of Drew Carey as the schoolmaster Holofernes.
Director Evan Needham moves the play along at a cracking pace, which occasionally causes some of the more complex lines to get lost, also a few of the actors — the blocking needs some work so that key characters are not hidden from half the audience's view at times when facial expressions are part of the action. Jared Sorenson's scenic design and construction works well in the challenging performance area, making smart use of the fixed elements — especially when Don Armado declaims dramatically from the roof.
The most confusing aspect of this otherwise well-executed production is the costumes. When we first meet the King and his companions, they are attired in World War II-era military uniforms. For the rest of the play, they and Don Armado mostly sport zoot suits — perhaps because they have moved from making rules to breaking them? Even less clear is the decision to dress the Princess, her entourage and the wench Jaquenetta in 1920s flapper dresses — particularly the latter, since Costard is costumed in standard-issue Shakespearean rustic tunic and breeches.
However, the play's the thing, so suspend (dis)belief and enjoy this delightful diversion. Love's Labour's Lost blends bawdiness and courtliness, history and fantasy, song and dance, to deliver an evening of comedy that will entertain, amuse and send you home with a smile on your face.
Remember to bring a blanket — while it's still light when the play ends a little after 9 p.m., it can get chilly under the redwoods in a Humboldt summer. Love's Labour's Lost runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. through Aug. 19. Call 822-7091 or visit www.ncrt.net.
Plays in the Park is also presenting Pam Service's family-friendly Merlin on Sundays at Redwood Park through Aug 20. Call 822-7091.
Humboldt Light Opera Company brings Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore, with its schemers, lovers and cursed baronets to the stage from Aug. 11-20. Call 630-5013 or visit www.hloc.org.