In Love's Labour's Lost, currently on the boards in Aimée Michel's and Clare Moncrief's delightful production at The Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, hubris is at the center of the comedy. Ferdinand, king of Navarre (Karl Lengel), enrolls his three closest friends in a solemn secular brotherhood devoted to scholarship. They will forgo the joys of the flesh for three years and devote themselves to improving their minds.
In the first scene of the play, we see the three about to sign their names to the articles of their oaths. With wistful forbearance, Longaville (Robert Richardson) and Dumaine (Donald Lewis) agree to sign, but Berowne (Gavin Mahlie) balks. The terms, he complains, are unreasonably strict for such a long stretch of time.
"Not to see a woman ...
One day in a week to touch no food
and but one meal in every day beside ...
And then, to sleep but three hours in the night,
and not be seen to wink of all the day ...
O, these are barren tasks, too hard to keep,
not to see ladies, study, fast and not sleep!"
The course the king proposes is too extreme. It refuses to accept the limits (and, with them, the true richness) of our mortal condition. It is, in short, a form of hubris and the gods will punish this transgression ... albeit, with a fittingly light and hilarious chastisement.
The instrument of divine justice, in this case, is a bevy of mischievous beauties newly arrived from France: the Princess (Shelley Poncy) and her ladies in waiting, Rosaline (Mary Lee Gibbons), Maria (Dana Panepinto) and Katharine (Fahnlohnee Harris), with their attendant, chaperone and factotum, Boyet (Danny Bowen).
The nobles are immediately smitten and they exhaust their ingenuity, not in the acquirement of knowledge, but in an attempt to win the favors of their chosen damsels, while keeping their forbidden courtship a secret from their comrades. One of the high points of the play is a scene in which each of the men hypocritically seizes the moral high ground, berating his friends for their weakness and dishonesty -- only to find his own transgressions have also been detected.
Meanwhile, there are various amusing subplots, involving a bombastic Spanish soldier (Ron Gural), a pedantic schoolmaster (Bowen, again), a curate (Michael Salinas), a page (Jennifer Kelley), a constable (Billy Slaughter), a country wench (Ashley Baker) and a sly, if unfortunate, lowlife clown named Costard (Gary Rucker).
There is much fun and many happy comic twists, some guaranteed by the witty text, some of them clearly discovered in rehearsal and wonderfully wedded to this particular cast and this particular production. For example, when Beroune, hiding in tree branches, overhears Longaville composing a love note, and -- irritated by his hesitant writing -- suggests a word, Longaville accepts the suggestion as his own inspiration after a moment of perplexity. Or when, Costard, having bungled his clandestine caper by delivering the wrong love letters into the wrong hands, manfully tries to eat the evidence, before the king can read it.
The elegant simplicity of Hugh Lester's set with its dreamlike sculpture of a tree and wrought-iron garden benches enhances the joyful, romantic shenanigans, while guitarist Stephen Thomas performs his own compositions. In a nice touch, the final reprise of the bright, bouncy and ironic Cuckoo song (sung by the impish Kelley) slows to an a cappella recital that captures the sudden melancholy clouding the end of the play -- a whispered cry from the never-distant mask of tragedy.
Another classic, though of much more youthful vintage, did slam-bang business at the Ashé Cultural Center recently. The Chakula Cha Jua Theater Company added extra performances to its standing-room-only run of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Director Cha Jua, with production assistance by Frozine "Jo" Thomas, put a company of 10 talented ladies through their paces (three of the seven roles were alternated).
On the matinee I attended, Donna King, Alfreda Weaver, Nadine Cutno Boudreaux, Mia Kristin Smith and Idella Johnson were welcome new faces, while veterans Ramona Ussin and Ashley Sherman did solid work.
That feeling of exuberant sisterhood that makes For Colored Girls so winning, despite the sometimes-grim realities it confronts, was much in evidence -- the connection between the audience and the performers was so palpable, it spilled out now and then, into a muted call and response.