We post-moderns know there are no real characters, right? A Falstaff is just a bunch of words, marks on a page. When the play is over, so is he. But is this true? Thinking that way absolves us of all risk when we enter the theater. Just a fiction, such stuff as dreams are made on, and the word is the only reality. Love’s Labour’s Lost is basically a battle between what we might call word and what we might call reality. It is entirely unclear at the end of the play which combatant has won. In page after page, scene after scene, words rule. We hang onto the plot line in desperation. The play is essentially a bunch of word games. But there is a catch, and his name is Berowne, wonderfully played by Mark Bedard in Shakespeare and Company’s new production. Berowne rejects Shakespeare’s need to show the university wits that he can best them, something he did splendidly in his “Rape of Lucrece” or “Venus and Adonis.” Berowne stands against the chatter and speaks for the reality of the word, the power of the word. And above all, the necessity that the word comes from the heart. Another thing Berowne represents is risk. Since the essence of the play is wordplay, speaking real is the ultimate risk, both for the playwright, and the actor. Not only does Shakespeare send up his fellow wits in the person of Berowne, he makes their whole method a thing of nought. Very like Orpheus, his agon is to come close to silence, guiding his own Euridice out of Hades. As Beethoven wrote, “from the heart, may it go to the heart.” In a wildly verbal play, the real struggle to speak directly and play no games. His success is uncertain. The title, after all, is Love’s Labour’s Lost.
The production gained in coherence and fluency as it went along. There were excellent performances by Brooke Parks as the Princess with her beautiful voice, and two young actresses, Kelly Galvin and Kate Abbruzzese, who said their few lines, after long waits, with clarity and naturalness. This is not easy. Michael F. Toomey was excellently funny without becoming a caricature. Still, I got the impression that the show needed a few more performances to really roll. Early Shakespeare is deliberately excessive, and decisions need to be made as to how to take me to the next scene. This seemed like it had been done in part, but not completely. Mark Bedard’s Berowne shows the way. The answer is not excessive speed; it is something I can only call “shape.” A kind of moving shape that leads on. Mr. Bedard made an eloquent demonstration of how this kind of language must be believed in, must be made to work. Artifice is also art.