Shakespeare Santa Cruz has opened its 2000 season with a delightful outdoor production of the Bard's "Love's Labour's Lost" that is enhanced by the playgoing experience itself. Affiliated with the theater department of UC-Santa Cruz, SSC is based on the scenic, woodsy campus high on the hills overlooking Santa Cruz and the ocean. Its outdoor shows are presented in a sylvan glen with modern amenities immediately adjacent.
Andrew Lieberman's scenic design spans the wide, relatively shallow stage with a red wall about 12 feet high with several doors. The primary set pieces are a worn sectional sofa on the main level, a tired loveseat atop the red wall and a sliding aluminum ladder set against the wall. Costume designer Kaye Voyce dresses the actors in modern attire with, for example, the King of Navarre (Bryan Torfeh) and his three lords in matching tan suits with narrow ties. Because the performance reviewed was a sunny matinee, Peter West's lighting can't be assessed, but Jon Sivell's sound design is good, as are Adam Wernick's songs. Beyond these sensory factors, the quality that immediately leaps out is how well-spoken the text is. Obviously this is a company that places a high priority on the language and on actors who speak it well.
In keeping with this priority, the staging by director Daniel Fish is understated but clever, allowing the words to carry most of the humor. However, he lets loose in such comical scenes as the one in which the four principal men, disguised as Muscovites, perform a hilarious dance for the Princess of France (Lise Bruneau) and her ladies. He also allows each actor to create a clearly delineated character in this largely ensemble work. Bruneau is a commanding, insightful, witty Princess. She's ably aided by Ursula Meyer as an intelligent Rosaline, who catches the eye of Andy Murray's excellent, disheveled Berowne.
Others who stand out include Liam Vincent as an unflappable Boyet; Richard Robichaux, as Moth, the page who wheels around on a furniture dolly; James Newcomb as the full-of-himself Holofernes; W. Francis Walters as the curate Nathaniel; Hans Altwies as a low-key Costard, the clown; and Douglas Nolan as Anthony Dull, the constable who lives up to his name. The only weak link is Tommy A. Gomez, who is too ponderous as Don Adriano de Armado, the outlandish Spanish knight. Otherwise, this is a topnotch production where one can bask in both the setting and the glory of Shakespeare's language.
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