People live on the island of Manhattan their entire lives and never visit the Statue of Liberty. There are lifelong Arizonans who’ve never stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon, San Franciscans who’ve never gazed awestruck at the redwoods on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, and New Orleanians who’ve never listened to jazz at Preservation Hall or the Spotted Cat.
Most people think that in Colorado the “How have you never?” equivalent are those droves of Centennial State natives who boast about never having skied or snowboarded. That analogy isn’t entirely apposite. Skiing and snowboarding, though closely identified with Colorado’s stretch of the Rocky Mountains, require acquired skills, specialized equipment and not inconsiderable expenditures of both time and money. The truer corollary would be all the Denverites and Boulderites who have never partaken of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
Now in its 61st season, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF) has earned its ranking as one of the premier Shakespeare festivals in the country. Because it takes place on CU’s Boulder campus, many people make the mistake of thinking the CSF features student performers when, in reality, it is a 100-percent professional theatrical endeavor. Just like New York’s Shakespeare in the Park, the CSF draws top-flight actors and directors from around the world. Over the years, CSF audiences have had the pleasure of watching the likes of Val Kilmer, Annette Bening, Jimmy Smits and Barry Corbin trod the boards.
Given the slate of plays at this year’s Colorado Shakespeare Festival, it could be considered more of a hipster — or even contrarian — season. The lone comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost, is a lesser-known, and therefore less produced, cousin of more popular titles like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing. The two other Shakespeare plays are both histories, Richard III and an abbreviated run of Edward III. The rest of the fest is filled out by Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s You Can’t Take It with You.
Thanks in largest part to scenic designer Stephen C. Jones and costume designer Meghan Anderson Doyle, Love’s Labour’s Lost looks amazing. The set is positively verdant with grass covering not only the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre’s stage but the stone benches set upon it. Vines adorn trellises. Plants abound. Fountains bubble. When the actors take the stage, their outfits simultaneously identify and delineate them.
The personalities of the Princess of France (Desiree Me Jung) and her ladies, Rosaline (Brynn Tucker), Maria (Aziza Gharib) and Katherine (Ambers Scales), are writ in their habiliments. The same is true of King Ferdinand (Marco Robinson) and his lords, Berowne (Seth Dhonau), Longaville (AJ Voliton) and Dumaine (David Derringer).
While Love’s Labour’s Lost focuses on the royals as they attempt to woo one another, as with many of the Bard’s works, it is the “working class” characters — and the actors who play them — that provide the biggest comedic bang for the buck. As the clown Costard, Michael Bouchard continues his winning run of Front Range performances. Comedy, especially understated comedy, ain’t easy, and Bochard is a natural comedian. As the Spanish knight, Don Armado, Rafael Untalan straight up steals every one of his scenes. When he was offstage I found myself counting the moments until his return. In smaller roles, Grant Bowman and Anastasia Davidson evince their comic chops as, respectively, a dimwitted constable and a merry maid. Scott Coopwood, returning from last year’s CSF, seems even more at ease this season as the Princess’ attendant, Boyet.
While the plot of Love’s Labour’s Lost is unremarkable for a Shakespeare play, its conclusion is rather unique — never fear, there be no spoilers here. So that they may study the mysteries of the universe undistracted, the King and his lords have sworn off women for three years. Their oaths still hang in the air when they spy the Princess and her ladies, and the men’s dedication to education evaporates faster than morning dew on a Georgia peach. What makes Love’s Labour’s Lost remarkable is that the foregone conclusion is not the one the play delivers. The ending is not at all unhappy, but it certainly isn’t the “and everyone lived happily ever after” cliché most will expect.
On the Bill: Love’s Labour’s Lost. Colorado Shakespeare Festival at the University of Colorado Boulder. Through Aug. 12, www.cupresents.org.