The even, talented cast invents engaging and hilarious characters who take full advantage of Shakespeare’s comedy and biting wit inherent in the satire of the play, which mocks the flowery language and ridiculous comparisons for which Shakespeare himself, and so many of his contemporaries, were so famous.
Certain standout performances elevate the play and entertainment value of this production, however. Matt Zambrano as Don Armado, the Fantastical Spaniard, who gave two standout performances at the festival last year, once again shines on stage as an over-the-top lovable, foreign buffoon.
Matt Mueller as the witty and sarcastic Berowne and Melinda Pfundstein as Berowne’s love Rosiline provide added charm, warmth and a certain air of sophistication and weight to the play as well.
Set in the early 1800s, the costume design makes every member of the cast look simply beautiful.
The first entrance of King Ferdinand and companions, Lords Berowne, Dumaine and Longaville, in beautiful, lean and masculine suits circa 1810, onto a freshly and richly adorned set, leaves no question as to the choice of the time period or the choice of costume designer Rachel Laritz.
The set takes full advantage of the fact the play is set mostly outside, and is a rich, organic cover across the outdoor stage that is warm and effective.
The action begins as King Ferdinand and his companions swear to live three years at court engaged only in serious study, fast once a week, sleep only three hours a day and also swear to live a celibate life and have no contact with women.
This oath is kept only until the Princess of France and her ladies, Rosaline, Maria and Katherine, arrive on embassy of the king, and the four gentlemen become hastily smitten and pledge their love to them.
The men profess their love writing long, wordy love letters that compare the women to every delight in the universe, calling the maids “goddess,” “a heavenly love,” and “a paradise.”
Instead of swooning at these sentiments the women mock and scorn the lords’ inconsistency, their perjury in breaking their oath and their ardent, ridiculous hyperbole. The women suspect the king and his companions to be lacking sincerity and true commitment.
The plot of this tale is less important than the theme, which seems to rest in how the play ridicules the absurdity of the educated and the insincerity of the over-worked language of the upper class, which ultimately is the crux and comedy of the play.
Overall, the production is as visually beautiful and satisfying as the actors’ treatment of this tale in which the ending leaves the audience to imagine its own fulfillment of love’s labors.