Back to school with ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’
CSF’s 2018 season kicks off with a lighthearted homage to its academic surroundings.
At the turn of the 20th century, early suffragettes co-opted city squares to protest for equal rights, and Americans had just discovered the innocent fun of riding a bicycle. Engineers drew up plans for an unsinkable ship, and Chautauqua assemblies all over the country invited adults on scenic retreats where they could attend TED-style lectures, dine in mess halls and bunk together in cabins.
It was a time of simplicity, optimism and exciting new ideas.
“In the early 20th century, you have change happening, but there are still these very pure ideals of honor and self-improvement,” says Brendon Fox. “Artists formed these small utopian societies focused on a common goal and created some amazing things.”
Fox believes the time period is an ideal setting for Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost”—a play in which a king and three of his noblemen, like many artists and intellectuals of that era, make a pact to sequester themselves in the forest, concentrate only on learning and swear off love … just as the four loves of their lives wander by. His production of the classic romantic comedy kicks off the 2018 Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Edwardian style in June.
While audiences can expect the zany, laugh-out-loud play to look a lot like a John Singer Sargent painting—pastoral, elegant and buttoned up—that doesn’t mean they’ll find the environs totally unfamiliar. If patrons have spent time at CU Boulder or any other college campus, they’ll feel right at home.
“There’s an innocence and a youthful exuberance to the play we want to explore,” Fox says. “The setting of the play is a lot like a university—it’s a bit isolated from the real world, it’s beautiful, it’s full of idealism and clever people. It will be so wonderful and appropriate to set the play in this beautiful grove against a backdrop of academia.”
Fox, a university professor himself, recognizes a lot of funny and poignant parallels between contemporary college life and the the quirky characters in “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” In both, the teachers are often verbose and a little pompous, but they mean well. The students, not yet sure who they are or who they’ll become, tend to commit their lives to one pursuit and try to ignore everything else … usually to their undoing.
“I see students live large, throwing themselves headlong into relationships or projects,” Fox says. “This play does a great job addressing that tumultuous time in people’s lives and asking questions people start to ask themselves around that age: What’s the line between love and infatuation? When do I need to take responsibility for myself? How will I contribute to the world?”
Like any good university education, Fox says, Shakespeare teaches us some valuable life lessons in “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” In the play’s many debates, for example, he shows us how two people can argue calmly and civilly—a technique today’s politicians seem to have forgotten.
“He shows language can be a tool for connection and empathy, not just a weapon to take someone down,” Fox says.
In a hilarious scene where the king and his noblemen try attracting the women they love with Russian disguises and strange banter—in other words, with everything other than simple confessions—Shakespeare also demonstrates the value of truth and sincerity, concepts more important than ever in our era of “fake news.”
“They keep wondering, ‘How do we spend time with these women and not be hypocrites after that oath we took?’” he says. “They have to learn by growing up that you can have ideals and fall in love.”
Between Shakespeare’s words and the play’s turn-of-the-century setting, there will be a lot to learn from “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” But rest assured it’s not all intellectual, Fox says.
“This play has quirky characters, really funny lines and strong and independent women,” he says. “It’s delightful to see whether you know Shakespeare or not.”