ORLANDO — Were the 1920s one of the last truly great decades, a time of economic prosperity when the nation was not at war, when Jazz was born and the parties never stopped? Was it the last moment of wide-eyed optimism before the Great Depression, World War II and other upheavals brought everything crashing back to Earth?
Hard to say. But it’s worth noting that if anyone books a ticket to see the Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” they should also catch the ongoing production of “The Great Gatsby”.
Both plays are set in the 1920s — “Gatsby” in New York and “Love’s” in Navarre, Spain, and the production values in both are first rate — from the music of the era to one of the true stars of both shows, the fine work of the Shakespeare’s Swingin’ Sewin’ Society and Costume Shop Volunteers, who made those elegant outfits that evoke the 1920s. Try to see both productions, if you can, because they most definitely work together in this evocation of a bygone era.
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” tells the humorous tale of the King of Navarre and his three companions — Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine — who decide they need to get serious about their studies and not allow anything to take them away from it. They even decide to turn their court into a “little academe.”
So naturally, one of the things they opt to studiously avoid is the company of beautiful women for three years. Now there’s a major distraction for you.
But that task becomes considerably more difficult when their court is visited by Armando, a Spanish knight who promises to give them plenty of delightful entertainment during his stay there. When the Princess of France arrives with her entourage, Rosaline, Maria and Katherine, suddenly academics seems considerably less appealing.
Let’s just say it isn’t long before the King and his buddies are falling hopelessly in love –but does love always conquer all? Stay tuned.
I saw “Gatsby” first, then Shakespeare, and they work nicely together. The Shakes’ “Gatsby” delved into the dark side of the Roaring Twenties, how prosperity gave people an opportunity to accumulate wealth in illegal ways, then waste their lives on self-indulgent drinking, gambling and adultery. The idealism that encourages people to work together constructively to create a better world took second place to easy comforts, and it all ended tragically.
“Love’s Labour’s Lost,” on the other hand, has terrific fun with the romantic entanglements between the King’s men and the Princess’ ladies, with a cast demonstrating great enthusiasm for some zany slapstick in the courtyard.
The performers certainly appear to be having a rollicking time, including Jim Helsinger as Don Adriano de Armado, Jacob Dresch as Costard, Buddy Haardt as Ferdinand and Christian Ryan as Biron.
If “Gatsby” suggested a prosperous decade gave people an opportunity to indulge in their worst impulses, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” has fun with a similar notion. It starts with the King of Navarre and his three companions pledging to devote the next three years to fasting, and rigorous study — and, don’t forget, no women for that time period. Shakespeare demonstrates just how quickly those lofty notions crumble once the men become infatuated with the Princess of France and her ladies.
Beautifully produced and acted, it has a particular funny and well directed final scene in Act I, when the King and his three friends fall into despair over their newfound loves, so each one composes an ode that he plans to send to the woman he loves — and the others overhear each ode. Kudos to the director, Thomas Ouellette, for the great comedic timing applied to this scene.
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” is being performed now through March 24 in the Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s Margeson Theater,
812 E. Rollins St.
Shows are at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25, $40, and $50. To learn more, call 407-447-1700, Ext. 1.
Conclusion: “Love’s Labour’s Lost” is a funny, well acted, and handsomely produced version of Shakespeare’s comedy. If you see it, also take the time to see the Orlando Shakes’ other production set in the 1920s, “The Great Gatsby.” They make for a great contrast.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..