Throughout history, playwrights have consistently adapted the theme of love in their work. William Shakespeare certainly did in virtually every play.
The University of Alberta’s Studio Theatre has picked up Shakespeare’s mantle for its first production of the season and is tackling the romantic comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost. Before you groan at the sound of Shakespeare’s name and flip the page, read on.
Director Edmund Stapleton has modernized both the society and text so audiences do not have to sit in a darkened theatre getting lost listening to the Bard’s 16th-century lingo. Yes, modern-speak and cell phones are front and centre.
In a statement, Stapleton writes, “The performance you will see at the Timms Centre is an experiment in action. Can the text of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, which is crammed full of wordplay, puns, allusions, proverbs and countless words that have vanished from our spoken language, be better understood and appreciated with an updated version?” Each theatregoer can decide for his/herself.
The winding plot concerns King Ferdinand of Navarre (Ben Kuchera), who persuades a trio of buddies to swear off wine and women for three years. Instead, he encourages them to pursue scholarly matters and fast. The more streetwise Berowne (Jordan Harvey) knows right from the get-go that the pact goes against human nature and is likely to fail.
However, the four men take a sacred oath just as the Princess of France (Emma Ryan) arrives with three noblewomen escorting her. In true Shakespearean form, the four couples instantly fall in love. Although the men hate to admit it, they are the first to capitulate as “Cupid’s fools.”
The fourth year BFA students are tackling the roles and the cast includes St. Albert actor Ben Kuchera playing a double role as King Ferdinand and Nathaniel, a yogi spiritualist with long flowing hair.
While Nathaniel, a hippie-styled character is fun to play, the St. Albert Catholic High School graduate feels a closer kinship to the King’s character.
“I find that when the King is with friends, he’s a different person than when he does his job. There’s a vulnerability to the King. At first he’s so confident in his plan, but begins to realize he can’t do it,” said Kuchera.
In swearing off women and following intellectual pursuits, the King desires to take a leadership role in building an academy that will rival that of the Greeks and Romans.
“The King is trying to live forever and have his name live forever. But he realizes that’s not possible. Time comes in unexpected ways and can end very quickly. The same goes for love. Love can enlighten and make life worthwhile. He discovers what love is and the wisdom that comes with it,” Kuchera said.
He is enthusiastic about the production and credits Stapleton with blowing a gust of fresh air through the fusty Shakespearean tome.
“Edmund encourages play and variety. It’s really easy to get stuck in Shakespeare’s verse and prose. The script has been translated and adapted and it has no punctuation. There’s a lot of possibilities you can do with that. I appreciate that in his work, and he’s so open to the possibilities of showcasing different talents.”
Actor Dean Stockdale offered to play music on stage. Stapleton cued in and put a band on stage with keyboard, drum kit, bass, and guitars. Shakespeare’s original play had love poems. When it was adapted and changed with modern music, he included contemporary hits from Bruce Springsteen (Human Touch), Stevie Wonder (I Just Called to Say I Love You), and Neil Diamond (Sweet Caroline.)
“Shakespeare has a reputation, and it can be daunting. But this production shows what Shakespeare was going for. There’s a lot of great humour, a lot of spectacle, and a lot of heart.”
Love’s Labour’s Lost runs at the Timms Centre until Oct. 16. Single tickets range from $12 to $25. Flex passes are also available. Call 780-492-2495 or email [email protected]