“Love’s Labour’s Lost,” an early comedy by the Bard, challenges actors and directors at the start. There’s a heavy bit of exposition at the top. Even early in his career, Shakespeare had already honed the art of crafting a line of verse to suggest the opposite of its ultimate meaning. That’s how much of Shakespearean comedy works. The exposition here rattles with deflection, but it’s clunkier in “LLL” than in later works. One temptation for a director is to rush through the early scene in which four young men pledge to each other that they will forswear women for a three-year period and commit to intense study in philosophy. This is the tack chosen by director Brenda DeVita, who is also APT’s artistic director. DeVita has choreographed the scene with some well-played madcap comedy that decodes the dialogue. The whole show, too. American Players Theatre can be reliably and brilliantly silly with classic comedies and this production—together with Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The Rivals,” also offered this season—make one wonder whether any company can add more wit or to put hijinks in better service to the, for Shakespeare, clunky work. This production moves.
Shakespeare set the action in the French Kingdom of Navarre where young Ferdinand, the king, and his three student pals make their pledge. DeVita brings the action into the 1950s-1960s and makes the center of the kingdom a college festooned with flowering vines and where the men wear preppy sweaters and women visit donned in bright Dior, Givenchy and “Gidget” swimwear. There’s music and dance, too, including some doo-wop by the women and some show-stealing turns by the men disguised as Cossacks. The whole cast is all in and a delight.
Alas, I cannot report on the whole show. “LLL” is presented in APT’s big, beautiful outdoor Hill theater. Normally, it’s a wondrous place to see theater. Birds sing through the shows and bats flit by the top of the stage near the lights. But late August occasionally brings mighty showers and the sky breached before the last act. Don’t let that experience dissuade you. The final act in “LLL” is a doozy. Some say it’s the bit of writing that convinced Shakespeare he could write great comedy. No doubt, when the American Players’ cast gets to it, they get to it. This season is a relaunch of the canceled 2020 season full of shows APT’s fans have been hoping to see. Or see again, though “LLL” was last seen on its stage twenty years ago.
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” at American Players Theatre, 5950 Golf Course Road, Spring Green, Wisconsin, (608)588-2361, americanplayers.org. Through October 2.