This summer the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is staging one of the less familiar Shakespeare comedies, “Love’s Labour's Lost.” It depicts a witty battle-of-the-sexes, and in this version, the women always come out on top.
"Love’s Labour's Lost" is Shakespeare’s campus comedy – with more books than any of his other plays. The story involves a young King and three young Lords, who foolishly take an oath forswearing wine, women and song for three long years. They promise to spend their time in the library, reading philosophy.
Well, those promises are quickly forgotten when an attractive and available French princess and three of her lovely ladies come a’calling. The young lord named Berowne attempts to get the attention of the witty Rosaline, using one of the lamest come-ons you’ll ever hear.
Berowne: Did not I dance with you in Brabant once?
Rosaline: Did not I dance with you in Brabant once?
Berowne: I know you did.
Rosaline: How needless was it then to ask the question.
Ouch. But Berowne gamely attempts to have the last word by tweaking the lady with his parting line. It … doesn’t work.
Berowne: Now, God save thy life, and send thee many lovers.
Rosaline: Amen. So you be none.
Double ouch. But these guys are determined to see the ladies, so they disguise themselves in ridiculous outfits, and adopt horrible fake accents, pretending to be Russian dancers. But the ladies see through this attempted “Ballet Russe,” and refuse to play along, prompting another hasty retreat by the boys.
King: Farewell, mad wenches. You have simple wits.
Princess: Twenty adieus, my frozen Muscovites.
Guys: Ehh… Gorbachev! Vodka!
The ad lib references to Gorbachev – a Soviet leader in the 1980s – and to Russian vodka, are not in Shakespeare’s script, but they’re still quite funny.
Elsewhere in the show, an incomprehensible speech by a snooty old professor, who peppers his remarks with Latin, is updated into a modern rhyming rap routine.
The frivolous comedy continues, with the girls repeatedly outsmarting the guys, until the final scene, when the play abruptly changes course. I won’t disclose what happens, but Shakespeare plants a huge hint right there in the play’s title -- “Love’s Labour's LOST.”
All in all, this is a smartly-planned and smoothly-executed show, with a generous contingent of 14 professional actors, and high production values --- akin to a high gloss Music Circus show. Except that it’s Shakespeare, not Rodgers and Hammerstein, and it’s staged in a natural amphitheater with a million-dollar view of Lake Tahoe, where the cool evening air is a whole lot more refreshing than the summer heat in Sacramento. Think about it, folks!
The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival production of “Love’s Labour's Lost” continues through August 27, alternating in repertory with the comedy “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Performances are at Sand Harbor in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.