The King of Navarre and three of his young retainers, Lords Berowne, Longueville and Dumaine, make a vow amongst themselves to swear off women and other worldly pleasures for three years whilst they devote themselves to intellectual pursuits. Shortly thereafter, the Princess of France arrives on a diplomatic mission, accompanied by her three lovely ladies-in-waiting, Rosaline, Maria and Katharine. Predictably enough, the four male aristocrats are soon falling in love, sneaking around behind one another’s backs and spying on each other, abetted and/or hindered by the usual Shakespearean array of scurrilous servants, pompous prelates and simple rustics.
Such are the bare bones of the plot of Love’s Labour’s Lost, one of the Bard’s earlier comedies, and also one of the least frequently performed in modern times. It’s dense with verbal brilliance, much of it utterly inscrutable to audiences born centuries too late to twig the fleeting Elizabethan poetic and rhetorical fashions that are being parodied therein. Consequently, however worthy a work of linguistic art, it’s usually heavily edited when it’s produced at all, nowadays.
That’s a bit of a shame, since Shakespeare fans will find in Love’s Labour’s Lost the author’s rough drafts for characters much more sharply realized in Much Ado about Nothing: Berowne and Rosaline’s flirtatious banter anticipates the snarky verbal sparring of Beatrice and Benedick, while Constable Dull’s propensity for malapropisms reaches its full flowering in the form of Dogberry in the later work. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the process of a great author just beginning to refine his craft.
Happily, this summer the talented people at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) have taken on the challenge of translating Love’s Labour’s Lost into accessible stage fare. It wrapped up its run at Boscobel in Cold Spring last Tuesday, but will reappear for two sunset shows this weekend in an intriguingly different (but comparably spectacular) outdoor setting: the grounds of the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville. Instead of a vista of the Hudson Highlands, West Point and Constitution Marsh, you’ll see massive sculptures by the likes of Mark di Suvero as a backdrop.
Ian Belknap directs these two Shakespeare on the Road performances featuring the HVSF Conservatory Company. Showtime is at 6 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday, September 1 and 2, and the play runs about 90 minutes. This will be a “lawn seating” arrangement, for which you will need to bring your own blanket and/or folding chair. Come up to an hour early to set up, and enjoy picnic offerings from the on-site café and food truck. Tickets cost $35 general admission, $32 for seniors, $25 for youth aged 5 to 18, $15 for Storm King members; children under 5 get in free. To purchase tickets, visit http://bit.ly/2x27bjr. See http://stormking.org/events/loveslabourslost for more information.
While you’re at it, you might want to look into the other events happening at the Storm King Arts Center as the 2017 season winds down. Admission is free for all visitors this Thursday, August 31. The exhibition of David Smith’s “White Sculptures” remains on view until November 12, and the summer program of Beekeeper Tours, live concerts, yoga classes, kids’ art workshops and other activities continues in the weeks to come. Extended summer hours end as of Labor Day, but Storm King will be open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Monday from September 2 to October 31. The site’s GPS address is 1 Museum Road in New Windsor. For more details, visit http://stormking.org.