Love’s Labor’s Lost

“Love’s Labor’s Lost,” one of William Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, is about a king and three of his buddies who make a pact to abstain from women for three years. Naturally, four lovely women come along within a matter of seconds and blow the whole plan to smithereens. Everyone breaks the oath, woos a woman, and wackiness abounds.

Sound like a great idea for a play? It probably is. The problem is that, well, Shakespeare isn’t for everybody. As much as some high school teachers would like it to be otherwise, the Bard is simply inaccessible to a lot of people. The language is very different, and this often necessitates that the style of acting be different. The result is frequently a play that, while apparently well done, a lot of people just don’t “get.”

The problem is worse with a comedy because in order to find humor in a joke, the audience has to have a firm grasp of the language, not to mention sufficient life experience to understand the situation involved. With the right tone of voice and movement of body an actor can convey a whole range of dramatic emotions even if the audience doesn’t know exactly what he’s saying. But all the actor can do with a comedy is convey that a line is SUPPOSED to be funny — if the audience doesn’t understand him, they won’t know what, exactly, is funny about it.

So it is with the Actors’ Repertory Theatre Ensemble (ARTE), currently producing “Love’s Labor’s Lost” at the Castle Theatre in Provo. Most of the actors show every sign of being quite capable when it comes to straight acting. But it takes a special kind of actor to do Shakespeare in a way that an average person can understand and enjoy, and an even more special actor to make it funny. Frankly, I’ve never seen a non-professional group pull off a Shakespearean comedy very well.

A few members of this cast do stand out, however. Mattney Beck as Berowne is quite good at getting his point across. He seems to have more energy and a slightly better handle on what he’s saying than do some of the others. The same can be said for Michael Cox’s Mote and Peter Brown’s Costard, both of whom provide some of the better laughs of the show.

Some problems with the Castle Theatre itself are inherent. It’s an outdoor amphitheater, and a fascinating one, architecturally. But one has to pay close attention to a Shakespeare play, and stone benches for sitting make paying attention difficult after a while, and intermission doesn’t come until nearly 90 minutes into the show. Ditto the copious bugs, and the music from nearby Seven Peaks. Furthermore, there is no sound system to speak of, and the actors don’t always project well enough to be heard in the back, or even, sometimes, at mid-range.

So is this a bad show? Not exactly. I don’t recommend that Shakespeare fans take their non-appreciating friends to this play as a means of “converting” them; take them instead to a larger production of a better-known play at an indoor theater, or to a Kenneth Branagh film.

But for Shakespeare fans — those who understand the language and are familiar with the play already — “Love’s Labor’s Lost” is an enjoyable show, well-staged and enthusiastically performed.