Originally published on July 1, 2023 in Chronogram by Nola Storms.
“Love’s Labor’s Lost” is a rarely performed Shakespearean comedy. Possible causes: out-of-date political humor and complex wordplay. Director Amanda Dehnert has updated the play for a contemporary audience at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Because of its infrequent staging, Dehnert believes there is more space for creativity in the play: “It’s like a new experience for viewers because it’s something they’ve never seen before—and they didn’t read it in school!” She’s has also picked up on something in this play that she believes others fail to see: modernity. She’s experienced how modern plays surprise viewers and take them on a journey. “This play does that in a way that no other Shakespeare play does,” Dehnert says. “When I read ‘Love’s Labor’s Lost’ I am constantly surprised at how modern it is in its structure.”
A brief plot synopsis: Soon after four young men from Navarre decide to swear an oath to focus on their studies for three years and avoid any distractions, especially women, their plan is threatened when the Princess of France and her ladies come to town. The men find themselves abandoning their vows and chasing women.
The themes of the play are modern as well, each speaking to something that current audiences can relate to. The main message that Dehnert has pulled out, because she feels it’s so relatable, is fantasy versus reality. In this play, it is the fantasy that the men are able to swear off women versus the reality that they have fallen in love and can’t follow through, and the fantasy of perfect young love versus the reality of what young love is. “This play deals with how people need to escape reality for a time,” she says. “But the moral is that you can’t escape the real world. We’re shown how fantasy is a part of existing in reality.”
Dehnert’s adaptation of “Love’s Labor’s Lost” got its start at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2018. Since then, she has continued to fine-tune the production. Dehnert attempts to revive this comedy by building on music to change the context of the scenes and develop the emotional experience for viewers, as she believes “music speaks to people in a more intuitive and emotional way than language.” Using this modern score, she’s aiming to generate a depth and backstory for viewers that cannot always be conveyed through Shakespeare’s poetic syntax. The original music embraces both pop and rock themes created by Dehnert and Andre Pleuss, a sound designer based in Chicago, and performed by cast members.
Dehnert’s current adaptation will run from July 15 to August 27 at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s new home in Garrison. This location will continue to house the festival’s iconic all-weather, 540-seat, open-air theater tent, which theatergoers will remember from the festival’s 34-year run at Boscobel. The outdoor stage is perfectly suited for “Love’s Labor’s Lost”—the action of this play occurs outside the Navarre palace, on the castle grounds. “Audiences really need room to have fun with other people, and this play is a great vehicle for that,” Dehnert says.
The festival plans to build a LEED-certified permanent theater using a New York State Council on the Arts capital grant of $10 million announced earlier this year. This will allow year-round performances and educational programs.