Women get the last words in ‘Lost’
Boys will be boys in Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost” — but you can bet the play’s ladies will be getting the best of the men before it’s done.
That’s a matter of some amusement (and satisfaction) for Kathleen Marshall, the top Broadway director who’s making a rare foray into the nonmusical realm with her Shakespeare Festival production of the play for the Old Globe Theatre.
When: Previews begin Aug. 14. Opens Aug. 20. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, Aug. 14 to Sept. 4. 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays and Sundays and 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, Sept. 6-18.Where: Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, Balboa ParkTickets: $29 and up (discounts available)Phone: (619) 234-5623Online: theoldglobe.org
When: Previews begin Aug. 14. Opens Aug. 20. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, Aug. 14 to Sept. 4. 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays and Sundays and 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, Sept. 6-18.
Where: Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, Balboa Park
Tickets: $29 and up (discounts available)
Phone: (619) 234-5623
The early Bard comedy, rarely staged these days, revolves around a quartet of men (led by the King of Navarre) who vow to swear off women for three years in favor of serious study and contemplation.
It’s no spoiler to note that it takes precious little time for their oath to go up in smoke.
And that has a lot to do with the quick-minded and resourceful women in the play — including the Princess of France (played by Globe returnee Kristen Connolly of the Netflix hit “House of Cards”) and her right-hand gal Rosaline (portrayed by 2016 Tony Award nominee Pascale Armand of Broadway’s “Eclipsed”).
“Like young people in life, the girls are a little ahead of the boys in terms of their maturity,” says Marshall, who is taking on her first-ever nonmusical Shakespeare project with the show.
“These ladies are smart, sharp, witty, and match wits with the men and with each other. Sometimes to the point where the men are sort of undone.
“The spine of the story is certainly these four guys who take this vow. But the women, I think, match them in a beautiful way.”
“Love’s Labor’s” is an unusual work not just for its seemingly progressive — at least for the Elizabethan era — approach to the female characters.
Good portions of the play are written in florid verse that Shakespeare intended as a parody of certain schools of writing at the time. Because the style he was satirizing is long since lost to history, it can be a challenge to make sense of all the play’s riffs and references.
“Somebody said that Shakespeare was sort of drunk with language when he wrote this play,” says Marshall, who directed and choreographed the musical version of the Bard’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” in New York a decade ago. “And sort of showing off. So there’s a lot of stuff that has double meanings, that we have to decode in a way so we can make sense of it.”
She notes that the play serves up a verbal trifecta: the longest scene Shakespeare ever wrote (Act V, Scene II), his longest speech (for the character Berowne) and the longest word in any of his plays (“honorificabilitudinitatibus”).
“So it is really him showing off in some ways,” Marshall says. “He was saying, ‘Look, I can do this, too. I can write in this style if I want to.’”
Connolly, who was last at the Globe as the doomed Desdemona (opposite Blair Underwood) in 2014’s “Othello,” is an experienced Shakespeare hand, but admits that “Love’s Labor’s” can test her grasp of the material.
“Usually I can work my way through it and figure things out,” she says of her past Bard experiences. “And with this, there are some things I’ve run into where I’m saying, ‘I have no idea what this is referring to.’”
She adds with a laugh: “And usually it’s something filthy. Oh my God, some of these scenes — (even though) I don’t know that anyone would know it just from reading it.
“We were laughing in rehearsal: This is like his version of an episode of ‘South Park’ or something. But it’s a lot of fun, you know?”
Marshall, a three-time Tony Award winner for choreographing “Wonderful Town,” “The Pajama Game” and “Anything Goes,” says she’s relying on the actors to convey some of what’s cloaked in those more obscure references.
“I was saying to our ladies today, our audience won’t know that’s a naughty reference, but your reaction to it will key us in to what it was,” she says.
“There’s a lot of naughtiness in there, but luckily for us it’s still sort of (rated) PG.”
The tone is obviously a huge shift for Armand from her work in “Eclipsed,” Danai Gurira’s acclaimed play about five women struggling to survive a brutal war in Liberia.
“And you know what, I’m grateful for it, because ‘Eclipsed’ is such heavy work,” says Armand, who was Tony-nominated for playing a young woman forced into sexual slavery.
“There was humor in the piece, but just the overall subject matter, and the fact (that the violence) is still perpetuated in the day-to-day, is the part that would really get us down.
“But here, yes, it’s a very welcome change of pace. To be able to just kind of act a fool with Shakespearean words is awesome.
“There’ll be music, there’ll be silliness, there’ll be crazy costume changes, funny props — all that stuff.”
Marshall says directing “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” written in the 1590s (the Globe has taken the “u” out of the second word to emphasize that this is an American production), is not unlike staging a musical.
That’s only partly because there is some actual music in the show; it’s more about “the number of plot lines and the multiple scenes and transitions — how we’re getting into and out of something.
“It behaves like a musical in that there are different groups of characters. You’ll see this group for a little while, then they’ll disappear for a bit and come back.”
So much of the work lies “in trying to string those things together.”
While this may be Marshall’s first straight Shakespeare, it’s not her first go-round at the Globe; two decades ago, she served as assistant choreographer to her brother, the director-choreographer Rob Marshall, on then-artistic chief Jack O’Brien’s Broadway-bound production of “Damn Yankees.”
She returned two years later to choreograph the time-travel musical “Time and Again.”
For “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” Marshall is taking visual cues from a period nearly two centuries after Shakespeare.
“It all takes place in the Kingdom of Navarre’s park,” she says of the play. “And it’s all outdoors; we’re never indoors in this play. I just had the inspiration of French rococo painting — 18th-century French painters like Boucher and Fragonard.
“There’s a series of paintings that Fragonard did called ‘The Progress of Love,’ in the Frick (Collection) in Manhattan. And they all take place in these sort of beautiful, lush gardens, and they (depict) all these lovers having assignations or arranging a tryst, or somebody pining over a lost love or passing a note back and forth.
“There’s a lot in this play about letters and notes. So I just loved the idea of it being in this beautiful, idyllic, bucolic, green, lush garden.”
It’s a setting that also matches the romance, and heartache, reflected in the language:
“When Berowne (one of the king’s men) says, ‘O my little heart’ — who can’t relate to, ‘O my little heart’? He has just found himself head over heels in love, and unexpectedly so.”
Such moments make working on Shakespeare “so rewarding,” says Connolly. “Every time you think you’ve got something figured out, you’ll hear it in a different way, or you’ll hear something else onstage that makes you rethink the endless possibilities for the language.
“If you’re listening, there’s so much to guide you in telling the story. It’s such a rewarding experience in that way. There’s sort of no bottom to how far you can go with the material.”