Who would have thought that a story about serious, young students who take a vow of chastity, abstinence, and intermittent fasting would produce such a party? It is impossible to imagine a kegger that kicks up spirits as high as those performing and attending Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost.”
This famously knotty play about a young king (Omar Shafiuzzaman) and three noblemen who take up an oath to absent themselves from society and specifically the company of women is immediately challenged when the Princess of France (Phoebe Lloyd, regal and commanding) arrives (conveniently!) with three young women. The play is filled with antiquated politics, humor and courtship thwarted. The play is challenging and nowhere near as popular as Shakespeare’s other comedies.
How do you breathe life into this medieval rom-com? Director Amanda Dehnert has made it into a rock musical and co-written a terrific score with André Pluess that strums and bangs its way through garage rock, surfer, hip hop, girl group, and punk played by an onstage band of characters from the play. It turns this night of rhyming couplets into a very cool night clubbing.
The best weapon of all in Dehnert’s crafting this evening of entertainment is the over-the-top talent, energy, and relationship between this company with each other and with their audience. Luis Quintero always catches my eye, but as Costard, he offers unmitigated delight throughout the lengthy play, from leading the audience in a call and response to scat singing a cover of a scene change to threatening the ridiculous Sir Adrian (perfect Kurt Rhoads) after he has impregnated Jaquenetta (fantastic Melissa Mahoney playing bass). Stephen Michael Spencer gets to pour his atomically adrenalized energy into Berowne, and scores laughs as big as the HVSF’s tent in every scene he steals. He’s a manic genius that’s been waiting for this romp in the park.
The show mines humor with Shakespeare’s intricate wordplay but also contemporizes and explodes meaning. There are also great physical gags, audience participation, and delightful costumes by Jessica Shay. Appropriately for a rock musical, there’s glitter, jewels, and flash. The men disguise themselves as The Muscovites, which turn out to be a band dressed in gold-glittered Sgt. Pepper jackets.
“Love’s Labor’s Lost” at HVSF is the happy collision of theater geeks and indie rock partying all night long. You will leave thrilled by the fun and good times and surprisingly moved by the ending.
“Love’s Labor’s Lost” plays at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival through 8/27 in Garrison, NY. Tickets: www.hvshakespeare.org or 845-265-9575