Originally published on July 21, 2023 by Ken Marks in The New Yorker (“Goings on about town”).
The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s mounting of this early comedy from the Bard is an ecstatic success. It can be a difficult play to parse, with reams of contemporary in-jokes, complicated locutions, ancient politics, and antique moralizing. The director, Amanda Dehnert, doesn’t stint on the wordplay—indeed, the parody of poetical forms and of pedantry (the plot concerns a young king and three courtiers vainly vowing to eschew wine and women in dedication to academic pursuit) are at the heart of the comedy. But she also gives the talented cast of sixteen plenty of opportunity for inventive, hilarious stage business. Plus, Dehnert has co-written, with André Pluess, a set of terrific rock and pop songs which punctuate the action, abstractly distilling the characters’ emotions. Adding to the musicality, much of the play’s poetry is in rhymed couplets, perfect for working into hip-hop beats, and for skillfully deflating the male ego. There are four pairs of lovers—actually, five, maybe five and half, but who’s counting? It’s all grist for the comedic mill, the talent of the company, and the verbal brilliance of William Shakespeare.