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Article Published August 16, 2018
In New Production Of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost,’ Bard Gets #MeThinksToo
Frank Rizzo

The playful games and delicate dances of courtship the young men and women perform in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost are taking on heightened relevance in 2018 when the rules of engagement between the sexes are under increasing scrutiny.

“Absolutely,” says director Rebecca Goodheart when asked if staging this early Shakespearean comedy is significantly different now than if it were presented a decade or more ago. “We have discovered in rehearsal more and more how timely it is.”

Goodheart, who is also producing artistic director of the Elm Shakespeare Company, which is presenting the free production Thursday, Aug. 16 through Sunday, Sept. 2 in New Haven’s Edgerton Park, says this work has an extraordinary contemporary context for the double quartet of young would-be lovers.

The story centers on Ferdinand, the young King of Navarre and his three noble friends, who have forsworn the distraction of women and a few other pleasures to concentrate on their studies for three years. That’s all well and good for these braggadocio fellows until the Princess of France and her three ladies arrive on a diplomatic mission, and who challenge the men’s character, will and libido.

“I would have had a simpler view before,” says Goodheart of the battle-infused, dominant verbiage the young men use in the play when they talk about the women. “In this day and age, we found some of that language in the play more troubling—no, not troubling—but rather more nuanced. In rehearsal, we have found a more nuanced way through this traditional story of guys going off to win their women. That wouldn’t have happened a decade ago. We’ve become more sensitive to these status and power games that happen between the sexes, as we now see its folly, and how easy it is to hurt each other. The trickiness is in finding the fair footage with each other.”

The play—one of the Bard’s lesser produced works—gets a bad reputation, she says, as being artificial, incomprehensible, or archaic because of some of the intricate playful, word play. Indeed, Yale Shakespearean scholar Harold Bloom wrote: “Shakespeare seems to seek the limits of his verbal resources, and discovers that there are none.”

But just beneath the surface of the heightened speech, she says, “are some really large issues of gender and how the sexes both understand and misunderstand each other. That’s really timely for our world right now.”

Shakespeare , as it turns out, may be on message for 2018, says Goodheart, for presenting one of his most intelligent female characters in the Princess of France and in creating an ending that defies expectations of a traditional romantic comedy of its era.

“Our brains love patterns—literally serotonin [a chemical believed to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness] is released when we recognize them—and patterns work on expectations, whether it’s the setting ups and fulfilling them or in the setting up and cleverly subverting them. Here the subversion just doesn’t mean it doesn’t end happily. It just means it just doesn’t end the way you expect.”

But in its own enlightened way, its ending is indeed happy with a promise of love in the not too distant future.

With its frat-boy collegiate characters, Goodheart says Love’s Labour’s Lost is a perfect Shakespeare show for a university town like New Haven, set among Southern Connecticut State University, Quinnipiac University, Alberta Magnus College, University of New Haven, and Yale.

“Though the boys [in the play] aren’t wearing ‘Y” sweaters,” Goodheart says there may be a reference or two such familiar icons as Wiffenpoofs and secret societies.

The time the play is set in this production is important, too.

“We set the play at the dawn of modernity, heading into the 1920s—around 1915. We’re not quite in the Jazz Age yet, but we’re nipping at its heels, says Goodheart. “We’re at the dawn of tremendous change in society where the old rules are changing and we don’t know quite yet what the new rules are.”

Not unlike now.

Love’s Labour’s Lost will be presented through Thursday, Sept. 2 on the Great Lawn in the center of Edgerton Park, off Whitney Avenue on 75 Cliff Street in New Haven. Performances of the show, which runs two hours without an intermission, are Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. with musical entertainment by the cast beginning at 7:30 p.m. No tickets or reservations needed. Seating is open on the grass of the great lawn. Bring your own lawn chairs or blankets (but it’s blanket-only seating down front).