John Lennon wrote many a fine lyric in his day - and a few dopey ones, god bless him - but he probably never dreamt that they would supplant Shakespeare's lyrics in one of his comedies. That's exactly what's going on in Charlotte Shakespeare's zany new version of Love's Labor's Lost, now on the Green Uptown through June 15, weather permitting.
If you look up the poetry that Bard wrote for this romp, you'll actually find a trio of sonnets that three of the four love-smitten swains write to their beloveds within hours of swearing an oath to abjure the company of women for three years. Love conquers the ascetic intentions of King Ferdinand and his three closest friends, but none of these effusions made it into Shakespeare's subsequently published sonnet collection. Nor has any of his other Love' Labor's Lost lyrics ever made it into an anthology, except for "When daisies pied and violets blue," which is actually a postlude to the play.
So if you're troubling to do Love's Labor's at all, you could hardly pick a riper occasion for bringing on "A Hard Day's Night," "A Little Help from My Friends," "All You Need Is Love," and the supremely blunt "Why Don't We Do It in Road?" And while we're at it, director Elise Wilkinson takes us back to the '60s, when the Moptop craze first began and vows of abstinence were most patently absurd. Charlotte Shakespeare does that on the Green, and the audience is rolling with it, often with laughter.
Chaz Pofahl leads the male quartet as the King of Navarre, clad in the public school garb the Beatles wore when first conquering the colonies on the Ed Sullivan Show, and Tiffany Bear is the lovely lead of the feminine fab four as the Princess of France. These royals aren't the sassiest pair in the mating orgy. We look to Meghan Lowther as Rosaline and Crash Buist as Berowne for that Shakespearean friction that hearkens back to Kate and Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew and prefigures the superior badinage between Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.
From there, vividness and liveliness fade among the chaste and their chasers. So it's fortunate that Leah Palmer-Licht and Pam Freedy, as Maria and Katherine, and Devin Clark and Dan O'Sullivan, as Longaville and Dumain, can bring some extra zest to the Lennon-McCartney songbook. Between songs, however, you'll likely find that most of the fun comes from the peripheral characters.
If you've already seen the more frequently-performed Shakespearean comedies, you'll probably agree with the accepted wisdom that superior models of every one of these eccentrics are scattered among these other works. Yet there's something to be said for congregating so many of these weirdoes in one script - and for rendering them with all the panache that we and Wilkinson could want.
Russell Rowe is flawless with Constable Andrew Dull's sprinkling of malapropisms, Anne Lambert brings plenty of starch to schoolmaster Holofernes's pedantry, and Amanda Pisano personifies wantonness as Jacquenetta, the country wench in heat. As the ladies' emissary to the nobles, Jonathan Ray is a clever old coot, but Boyet's antics pale against the most outré folk.
Corlis Hayes seems to do one of these every season on the Green, so here she is as Moth, a servant who babbles much but hardly ever serves her master Don Armado. Christian Casper grandiloquently portrays this fantastical Spaniard, who strikes up a song on a couple of occasions - with an accent that seems to be on a junket to Sicily - and often seems to have wandered into the comedy without a purpose.
Armado does pen a billet-doux to the slutty Jacquenetta that gets mixed up in the mail with Berowne's sweet missive. The incompetent postman is Armado's freed slave Costard, and Grant Watkins makes a four-course meal of him, not only instigating the mix-up of love letters but also wielding a guitar to accompany any and everyone who has the nerve to do a vocal, including himself. He also has the inside track on Jacquenetta, making Armado's courtship an orotund exercise in futility.
If you bring a blanket, a basket with your dinner, and maybe some folding chairs, you and your family can have a picnic on the Green Uptown - in more ways than one. Bard is all you need, plus a suggested donation.