“Love’s Labour’s Lost” is found at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where Shakespeare’s rarely seen comedy opens Friday night.
Brian Gill, who is directing the show, said one reason this show isn’t performed often is “because it doesn’t fall neatly into a category. It’s not all comedy or all drama.”
What it is all about is language.
Above all, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” focuses on words or, as Gill puts it, “it’s all about these eight very young, very smart people who wage war using language.”
That can make staging the show a difficult challenge.
“If the director and the actors aren’t careful,” Gill said, “it can be a tricky play to follow.”
Gilll, a UW-Parkside theater professor who still works as an actor, performed in the show as part of the Shakespeare Project of Chicago.
“I really like this show,” he said, “and I thought ‘why isn’t this done more often?’”
In this story, the king of Navarre convinces his three best friends to swear a three-year oath of chastity and contemplation, which is designed to help them focus their minds on academia. Immediately after making the pledge, however, all four men meet the princess of France and her ladies in waiting and instantly fall in love.
The young men’s studies soon give way to secret letters and amorous promises as the women set out to teach the men a thing or two about love.
“There are a lot of similarities to other Shakespeare comedies, including eavesdropping, disguises and letters getting mixed up,” Gill said.
The play was written in the mid-1590s, but Gill said today’s students can relate to it.
“There’ a lot of funny humor in it,” Gill said. He compares much of the comedy to an episode of the TV show “The Monkees,” with “four young men making fools of themselves and running around. It’s a very silly play in a lot of ways, though the real world does intrude at the end.”
Gill set this production in 1927, which Gill calls “a brief time in society where we lurched toward the Roaring Twenties after the end of World War I.”
“The time period fits in that these young men would go from the horrors of the war to completely the opposite direction into, basically, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.” (Think: “The Great Gatsby” and all-night parties.)
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” features the longest scene, the longest single word (honorificabilitudinitatibus) and the longest speech in all of Shakespeare’s plays, but local audiences won’t hear all of that.
“We made some cuts to the text,” Gill said, including eliminating “two pages of Latin jokes.”
The cuts included that tremendously long word and a lot of text written in letters in the show.
Instead, the staging will have a narrator, accompanied by a flamenco dancer, read from some of those letters.
UW-Parkside’s performance will run about two hours, plus a 15-minute intermission.
For people who are nervous about “getting” all of the language, Gill said to relax and enjoy “the silly fun, plus lots of music in the show and even a Charleston dance.”
“We really want this show to have that joyful feeling of being stupidly in love. Don’t be intimidated by the language, and you don’t have to ‘get’ every word to enjoy the show.”