Wit and Love at Marin Shakespeare

Loves Labours Lost.jpgLove’s Labour’s Lost closes the summer festival 

Some of my favorite lines in Shakespeare are from the winter section of “The Cuckoo and Owl,” the closing song from Love’s Labour’s Lost: “Then nightly sings the staring owl/ Tu-whit;/ Tu who/ While greasy Joan doth keel the pot” (keel meaning to stir in order to cool). At the end of a list of concise wintery images comes this vivid image of a cook stirring a bubbling pot. The image it conjures is so perfect drawn. I can’t explain why, but every time I read or hear it, it gives me a brief thrill. And so it was on Saturday night at Marin Shakespeare Company’s production of this early comedy by my favorite playwright.

The play was written at about the same time as Romeo and Juliet, and bears some of that more popular play’s characteristics, especially its dense and clever wordplay. Puns abound. And witty inversions, along with a host of other poetic devices, all adding a glossy humor to the absurdities of the characters as they stumble their way through the mishaps of desire and high ideals. This was a play written by someone giddily in love with the Sunny Lady of Language.

As one might expect, plot is one of the lesser features of the play. It opens with King Ferdinand of Navarre (Dean Linnard) demanding that his three friends commit their unwavering allegiance to his recent edict: for three years they will attend to their studies with diligence, fasting and shunning women. Two of those friends, Longaville (Walter Zarnowitz) and Dumain (Terrance Smith), are willing to go along with the King’s manly enthusiasms, his third friend, Biron (Patrick Russell), less so. Nonetheless, the three friends agree.

Foolish boys.

And then the brilliant and witty Princess of France (Livia DiMarchi) arrives with three ladies of her court (Morgan Pavey, Eliza Boirin, Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) and their attendant Boyet (Christopher Kelly), in order to negotiate with the King over the cession of Aquitaine. This is a high matter of State, and although the King must meet with the Princess, he still insists that she and her entourage camp a virtuous mile away from his court. As soon as they lay eyes on the lovely ladies, however, Ferdinand and his pals fall like ripe wheat under the sickle. Whatever is to be done?

In the meantime, Don Amado (Braedyn Youngberg), a visiting Spanish nobleman, reports the rustic Costard (Amy Lizardo) for having a tryst with Jaquenetta (Shadi Moeini Nejad), a country girl, and therefore breaking the law of the land. Costard is handed into Amado’s custody, and condemned to fast on bran and water for a week. The real problem is that Don Amado is wildly in love with Jaquenetta. A little too wildly it comes to pass.

Don Amado uses Costard as a courier for a love note to Jaquenetta, and Biron also uses him as the courier for a love letter to one of the visiting ladies, the sharp-minded and out-spoken Rosalie (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn). Bien sur, the notes are delivered to the wrong women. That’s just part of the confusions and delights of the play, but untangling them requires attendance at this seldom staged but wonderfully entertaining romantic comedy.

This production is set in Oxford at the turn of the twentieth century, which only goes to show the play’s timeless appeal. Rob Clare directed this lively performance with a young cast that infused story and words with bright energy and good-humored wit. Sets were by Jackson Currier, costumes by Abra Berman and lighting by April George.

Sitting in the soft afternoon of the Forest Meadows Amphitheater on the Dominican University campus, watching a skillful adaptation of a witty play is the perfect antidote to a blazingly hot day in the Bay Area. Or to any day.

– Jaime Robles

Love’s Labour’s Lost continues at Marin Shakespeare Company through September 24. Information and tickets can be found at

Photo: (Left to right) Friends Biron (Patrick Russell), Longaville (Walter Zarnowitz) and Dumain (Terrance Smith) confer with King Ferdinand (Dean Linnard) on the difficulties of courting at Marin Shakespeare Company’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Photo by Jay Yamada.