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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 11.11.10

 

Franz Ferdinand Is Not Dead Yet

UT sets Love’s Labors Lost on the brink of war.

by Anna Grace

Sonya Davis and Sam Greenspan in Love’s Labors Lost. Photo by Ariel Ogden

You can almost feel the early summer breezes floating off the verdant set. Beautiful people in the most glorious costumes mistake identities, misdirect letters and moon over lovers. Love’s Labors Lost could not be more appropriately played than on a college campus. Its story contains little more than four privileged young men who swear off women and other earthly pleasures for three years. They completely devote themselves to the pursuit of knowledge, but no sooner do the ladies show up than they become a mudslide of maudlin poetry and unrestrained emotion. It’s saccharinely sweet Shakespeare. 

Or is it?

Director Sara Freeman set her production in 1914, as a splendid sunset on the last days of European superiority. Shadowing the action of the play is the sense that this simple, beautiful world is about to be washed away by World War I. Probably not William Shakespeare’s original intent, but not a bad idea. This works admirably until the last scene. Most often, directors speed through Act V’s uncomfortable ending to a delightful play. While it may be awkward, at least it’s over quickly. Freeman chose to draw it out just a little longer than she should have to drive home the theme of encroaching war. The show nicely echoed a number of recent Oregon Shakespeare Festival productions, with old-timey film footage, an earnest attempt to make the play more relevant, a lot of really clever bits and extra-textual half-naked men boxing.

Ever on their toes, the cast is sharp and well shepherded. Charlie van Duyn is hysterical as Armado.  The couples banter with flair, and I particularly enjoyed the antics of lesser lovers Dumaine (Colin Lawrence) and Katherine (Hannah Quigg.) Martin Diaz-Valdes raked in the laughs as Costard along side his earthy counterpart Jaquenetta (Kathleen Leary)

While no one would accuse it of being the smartest play in Shakespeare’s canon, Love’s Labors Lost should be the prettiest. It’s absolutely Elizabethan, as splendidly dressed royals frolic in fields and forests. Here, the UO Theatre does not disappoint. Javis Jahner’s set is a wonder of shifting hedgerows, trees dipping in and out and Grecian columns occasionally floating in from the heavens, as though M.C. Escher had created and animated a hedge maze.

Youthful energy filled the theater as the showed opened to an enthusiastic university audience Friday night. Love’s Labors Lost is a tale that speaks to he young, and Freeman’s take revitalizes it for the rest of us.

Love’s Labors Lost continues through Nov. 20 at the UO’s Robinson Theatre. Tix at http://wkly.ws/w7 or 541-346-4363.