Photo by Steve Miller Photography

This event was scheduled July 21-August 13, 2023.

As the stars began their wheel across the dusky sky, the words of a 300-year-old Shakespearian play delighted a picnicking audience at the recent opening night of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a sparkling production of the 2023 Central Coast Shakespeare Festival.

Photo by Steve Miller Photography

Playing through August 13, Love’s Labour’s Lost is a glittering, fast-paced, witty, often bawdy, delightful froth that shouldn’t be missed.

A lavish set depicting a country estate, expertly designed by Al Schnupp, is tucked in a hidden canyon of Filipponi Ranch, inhabited at various times by royalty, maidens, snake charmers, Muscovite dancers, a crazy Spaniard, simpering lords, a constable, a page, a wench, and a rubber-legged clown.

Written around 1594, Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s earliest and most challenging plays. It contains a convoluted plot (as well as various sub-plots and a play-within-a-play), and an unusually jarring ending that tilts towards tragedy. Directors Zoe Saba and Cynthia Totten, guided by dramaturg Diane Mayfield, have skillfully honed it into a navigable rom-com, while maintaining its dizzying wordplay and its signature utterance of the seventh-longest word in the English language.

The comedy focuses on three men (instead of four as in the original version) who find themselves falling in love against their wills. One of the men, King Ferdinand of Navarre (expertly played by Mark Klassen) enlists his courtiers, Berowne (a dashing Gryphon Strom) and Dumaine (the handsome Dylan Krebs), to join him in signing a pledge to study for three years. Embedded in the pledge are the onerous terms of foreswearing all contact with women, fasting one day a week, sleeping only three hours per night, and eating only one meal a day. The prescient Berowne predicts the pledge will fail, and sure enough, trouble arrives when the Princess of France (a regal Janet Stipicevich), and her two ladies-in-waiting, Rosaline (the spirited Heather McLeod) and Katherine (the very “singing pretty” Juliana Cementina) set up camp nearby.

Meanwhile, the Quixote-like Don Adriano de Armado (played by the scene-stealing Tyler Lopez) swoons over a dairy maid, Jacquenetta (the fiery Jacquelyn Morales). In true Shakespearean fashion, the illiterate local swain Costard (the exuberant comedic genius Jude Walker) mixes up two letters he is to deliver, one from Armado to Jacquenetta and the other from Berowne to Rosaline.

Each man ferociously tries to deny his natural instincts through a series of antics, only to fall helplessly in love with his destined lady. In a misguided effort to impress, the men design a pageant for the bemused women, who in turn plot to deceive them by exchanging identifying tokens. The ensuing slapstick play-within-a-play comes to a sudden halt when word arrives that the princess’s father has died. The ladies then soberly reject their suitors’ proposals as too hasty and impose a new year-long pledge of good deeds the men must fulfill before allowing any further courtship.

The cast of this scintillating production is ably rounded out by John Pillow (playing Boyet), a spunky Michaela Sadler (playing Moth) and the self-important Constable Dull (played expertly by Steve Evans).

Kudos also to Roger Upton for the exquisite Regency costumes, choreographer Jason Sumabat, construction doyen Tim Hutchison, the stage managers, production crew, and of course to producer Krystal Kirk.

:: Deborah Bayles