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'Love's Labour's Lost' mixes high, low comedy


“Lost” in Austen? Absolutely — and blissfully so.

Initially, purists may be alarmed by the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s current production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”

After all, the production sidesteps USF tradition, which decrees that all plays performed in the outdoor Adams Shakespearean Theatre must be set in Shakespeare’s time. (Or earlier.)

Instead, this “Love’s Labour’s Lost” cheekily time-warps into the Regency era.

The play’s top-hatted, tail-coated gents and bonneted, gracefully gowned ladies look as though they’ve just stepped out of the pages of a Jane Austen novel.

But Shakespeare’s most definitely here (if at an early stage of development), displaying dizzying wordplay and a delicious mix of high and low comedy.

To say nothing of the inevitable, and inexhaustible, subject of romance — and what fools we mortals be in pursuit of same.

We’re in the realm of Navarre, where dashing King Ferdinand (Quinn Mattfeld, a marvel of quicksilver comic timing) and his friends (Robert Adelman Hancock, Jeb Burris, Matt Mueller) vow to put courtly pleasures aside and devote themselves, for three years, to a monklike existence of contemplative study. No women allowed.

Immediately testing their resolve: the spirited Princess of France (Melissa Graves), newly arrived on a diplomatic mission and conveniently accompanied by an equally beguiling entourage (Elizabeth Telford, Siobhan Doherty, Melinda Pfundstein).

So much for that “no ladies allowed” decree.

Throughout, director Laura Gordon zeroes in on the play’s contrast between head and heart, deftly balancing the pun-punctuated word games with genial, antic slapstick.

Some characters (notably the spry Henry Woronicz as schoolmaster Holofernes) seem all head. Others (whimsical Matt Zambrano as the effusive Spaniard Don Pedro de Armada) are all heart. (Despite their differences, the two share a common ailment: diarrhea of the jawbone.)

And as our young lovers caper about the play’s magical setting (conjured by scenic designer Robert Mark Morgan and lighting designer Donna Ruzika), the battle between head and heart rages on.

That is, until reality (as it must) disrupts the collective frolic — and reminds us all that, on the stage of life, hearts and minds deserve equal billing.

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

 

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