When Jordan Smith, Rick Lonon and Tom Marriott step out from behind the curtain in tux, tie and tails, one can almost hear Dennis Hopper's lines from Blue Velvet: How'd they get so damned suave? The last time a group this swanky got together, one of them was headlining at the Sands in Vegas.
They swagger toward three or four women from France with worldly aplomb. Then the Chairman--I mean, the king--says "Welcome to Navarre." Cue Nelson Riddle and the Orchestra. Drinks for the house.
But the cool goes down in flames a moment later. Dear, dear: Royalty punctures easily in these parts. After the princess rebuffs them, a drag queen shows the fools the door.
Lessons yet unlearned: This is the essence of Love's Labours Lost, even in this immodest revisioning by Shakespeare and Originals. Artistic director Jay O'Berski's major twist this time involved casting the central characters much later in life than originally intended.
True, more and more older people are returning to regional campuses these days to finish educations sometimes started decades before. But the antics here enacted demonstrate that some folks never learn.
The initial scene makes it obvious that Navarre's King (Jordan Smith), Longaville (Rick Lonon) and Berowne (Tom Marriott) are fools to start with. They agree that the oath of "strict observances" they volunteer to sign is unwise: three years without women, robust food or a good night's sleep. Berowne elegantly outlines its absurdity.
Yet they sign, and in doing so guarantee lost time, lost effort and love, if not lost outright, than substantially deferred. Such things have one meaning in late adolescence. They take on a darker significance in older age.
For the majority of the script, Shakespeare's play trips along like a comedy, an impulse entirely gratified in this production. When the officious King is found out to be in love, the late, late students lampoon one another's romantic afflictions. The trio are alternatively amused and aped by the surreal Spaniard, Don Armado and his associate, Costard, the clown. Jeffrey Scott Detwiler plays the fantastical Armado one stop short of Dali, while Lance Waycaster's grating, gratifying Costard seems an improbable amalgamation of Emmett Kelly Sr. and Smashmouth's Steve Harwell.
Marcia Edmundson plays the Princess of France first with grace, but then with icy charm when her group is relegated to tents in fields--so that Navarre's slowest students may not break their foolish oath. Derrick Ivey camps it up, Egyptian style, as their major major domo, Boyet. Edmundson may well play the princess, but in this production there's no question about who's the queen. His slicing wit perplexes the not-that-good old boys and the women's masked machinations effectively confound them.
They romantically make up, and courtship begins--aided by the intentionally bad theatrics of Holofernes' amateur theatre troupe. As Holofernes, Lissa Brennan's overcaffeinated collection of jagged tics, excruciating over-enunciations and assorted bad-actor shtick is simply captivating. Here she seems a woman possessed by the ghosts of Martha Graham and Gloria Swanson--simultaneously. Pity neither particularly wants to share. Credit is also due her dual role as Armado's page and foil, the young and particularly nasal Moth.
As all Shakespeare lovers know, all is fun and games until the King of France dies. The Princess of France may have courted more than one fool in her time, but she must never marry one, particularly not as head of state. An older swain's unwise oath takes on darker tones. How far can such a man be trusted? What is his word worth?
Suddenly playtime comes to an end, when a necessary disenchantment shows how much the men have left to learn, the women give them another year. But the larger clock runs on, above them all. A worthy end to a worthy production.