Monday, August 22, 2016

Love and Gutenberg

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Love’s Labor’s Lost at the Old Globe
Jim Cox photographer

Prepare yourself to be amazed by the beauty of the Old Globe’s production of William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, as directed by Kathleen Marshall and made manifest by scenic designer John Lee Beaty. Beaty creates the “park” adjacent to the King of Navarre’s palace on the Lowell Davis Festival Stage. The park, or garden, is full of surprises.

The Company, the Park,  and the Muscovite Scene

You remember the setup. Young King Ferdinand (Jonny Orsini) is a much given to study and intellectual pursuits. In the first scene he and his young lords – Berowne (Kieran Campion), Dumaine (Amara James Aja), and Longaville (Nathan Whitmer) – sign a pact that forbids interaction with women and pledges adherence to a course of rigorous study, fasting and meditation for a period of three years.

The Princess (second from right), Boyet (third from right) and her Ladies
Oops, the King forgot the impending arrival of the Princess of France (Kristen Connolly), who is on embassy from the French king, her father, along with her three ladies, Rosaline (Pascale Armand), Maria (Amy Blackman) and Katherine (Talley Beth Gale).  Their officious attendant, Boyet, is “one of the girls” as well, at least in this production. Kevin Calhoun plays him slightly caustic, resplendent in a tricorn hat and a plethora of stereotypical gay behaviors.

Though he billets the Princess and her ladies some distance from the palace (with the Park in between) Ferdinand and the Princess immediately fall in love, as in short order, do the others, Berowne with Rosaline, Dumaine with Katherine, and Longaville with Maria. Poetry intended for the Princess and the dairymaid Jaquenetta (Makha Mthembu), sent by the king and the Spanish braggart Don Adriano de Armado (Triney Sandoval), respectively, are switched by the clown, Costard (Greg Hildreth). The duplicity of all involved is revealed, and, the pact broken, all proceed to woo accordingly.

Kieran Campion and Pascale Armand as
Berowne and Rosaline

In one scene created by Shakespeare, the men disguise themselves as Muscovites, thinking to woo the ladies thus. Boyet discovers their intent and warns the ladies, who in turn play a trick on the Russians The stalwarts enter to the Trepak from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet. Their lack of dancing ability makes the staging exceptionally funny.

Shakespeare also writes two additional foolish characters in the form of two pedants, both superbly played, their scenes certainly highlighting the production: the schoolteacher Holofernes (Stephen Spinella, the original Prior Walter in Angels in America: The Millennium Approaches) and the curate Nathaniel (Patrick Kerr).
Methembu, Kerr, Spinella and Hildreth 

Marshall’s casting and directing instincts are appropriate for large scale Shakespeare outdoors. She moves groups of people amusingly throughout the show, which indeed ends with song and dance in the traditional manner of English companies.

Sadly, my expectation of romantic heat between the young lovers was dashed, causing me to wonder, at the denouement, which usually evokes tears, if any troth would survive the 12-month nuptial delay imposed by the King of France’s death. Nonetheless, Love’s Labor’s Lost provides an extremely enjoyable evening and marks an impressive first staging of a full Shakespeare production for Marshall.

Love’s Labor’s Lost continues Tuesdays through Sundays on the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Stage through September 18. Curtain time is 8pm through September 10, after which there are some 7pm curtains – so be mindful when purchasing tickets, which start at $29. or 619-23-GLOBE

Gutenberg! The Musical! at Diversionary
Photos by Studio B Photo Productions

Jessica John Gercke and Francis Gercke’s new theater company, Backyard Renaissance, presents the West Coast premiere of Gutenberg! The Musical! on Diversionary Theatre’s main stage through September 4. Directed by Kim Strassburger, the frantic two-hander stars a real-life married couple, Anthony Methvin and Tom Zohar, as writing partners Doug and Bud, who’ve created their third musical, which they consider a sure hit and bound to be a success.
Methvin and Zohar

At a backers’ presentation (among us, the audience, are Broadway producers), Doug and Bud do a sing-through, explaining what is a musical and the difficulty of writing a musical about the inventor of the printing press when so little is known. Thus, we wind up with a totally wacky fabrication in which Gutenberg is wooed by the wine maker’s daughter Helvetica, opposed and even hated by some residents including the Monk (who doesn’t want people to read The Bible for themselves), and celebrated by others, all identified by a yellow baseball cap with their names emblazoned above the bill.

The set features an enormous table on which all these caps are set, at the ready. Sometimes, in case of rapid succession of characters, or, say, a chorus line, multiple hats at a time may be used or worn.

Helvetica and Gutenberg
Numerous songs are begun and seldom completed (the best is “I had a dream,” which sounds vaguely familiar), the pace is so frantic, but never, well, hardly ever, is any cap lost or misplaced. 

In its eagerness to please, Bud and Doug's musical blatantly robs melodies and situations from Broadway shows, principally Les Miz. And it goes without saying that the actors  here at Diversionary are adorable and sing well and manage not to get lost despite the intended chaos. Medals to their able assistants, music director Lyndon Pugeda and an animal named Satan, played by the feline named Biscuit, apparently a veteran performer to judge by the program biography, but a bit static in her delivery.
Zohar and Methvin prepare to play
multple characters

As co-creator Brown says, “It’s really hard to write a musical! Even a bad one.” That reminds me of a funny story I cannot tell.

Those who attend – and you are urged to do so! – should go to Gutenberg! The Musical! without preconceptions. Just let yourself go with the non-sense of it all, and join in the fun whenever invited. You’ll go home heartened and simply entertained.

Gutenberg! The Musical! continues through September 4 at Diversionary, 4545 Park Boulevard.

Note: Helvetica typeface used here in homage to my favorite character.

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