It is February, the month of love, so it is only fitting that as part of the Praxis Series, the Department of Theatre Arts at SUNY New Paltz put together a staged reading of a work by the inventor of courtly love himself: Shakespeare.
During the weekend of Feb. 8 and 9, leading up to the one and only day of love and all its labor that is Valentine’s Day, the theatre department, in newly joint partnership with the Play On! Shakespeare project, presented a modern take of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” This was a modern translation, developed by Josh Wilder and directed by Brian Demar Jones.
And modern it was. As I sat next to Managing Editor Madalyn Alfonso, watching the curtain fall with the conclusion of the introductory scene, along with the entire audience, I was shocked by a break into the chorus of Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” and whipped my redirected eyes toward a spotlit party of King Ferdinand and his gentle companions shimmying and lip syncing down the audience steps all the way to the stage.
“So it’s that kind of show,” I heard from Alfonso to my left. Indeed.
This royal court, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” has vowed to endure a three-year contemplation period which prohibits keeping the company of women. That plan gets tested as the Princess of France, along with her own court of fair ladies, arrives to visit and request an audience with the King. While the very archetypal Shakespearean storyline of courting, resisting, cat-and-dog and eventual resolution of love was flawlessly executed, the side plots of a goofy Spanish King Armado played brilliantly by Miranda Cooper and an even goofier Costard, the witty clown delivered by Grace Petrillo, stole the show and many consistent laughs from the audience. I even heard Alfonso cackle.
Scanning the room it was evident to see that this staged reading truly attracted all demographics. From the 20 something year-olds hooting and hollering in center left, the elderly couple in the smackdab middle, or the artsy middle-aged couples in the back, everyone stayed till the curtain call.
“I think Shakespeare can be enjoyed by anyone whether in its original form or in the versions that Play on! Shakespeare created,” said Assistant Professor Martine Green-Rogers. “In theory, Play on! Shakespeare just aims to make the aural slide into Shakespeare’s Early Modern English a little less bumpy.”
With shining moments like King Ferdinand (played by Moses Oscar) pulling out his iPhone to blast bedroom music in the middle of an audience of his royal court and the Princess’ court of ladies as well, the reworking of this old play hit the mark. It was perfectly-timed, which could not have been easy since the whole show was pulled together in a week, and definitely highlighted the fun that theatre can have with classic literature.
“I love this project because it does not seek to replace Shakespeare. Really, it just reveals how much of a wordsmithing genius he was when creating these plays,” Green-Rogers said.