Broadcast text reviews of: LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST and LIGHT UP THE SKY

by Lynn on August 28, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, August 28, 2015 CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. Love’s Labour’s Lost at Stratford until October 9, 2015 and Light Up the Sky at the Shaw Festival until October 11, 2015.

The host was Phil Taylor.

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. What treats do you have for us this week??

I have two, one each from the Stratford Festival and the other from the Shaw Festival. From Stratford, Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, about having the best of intentions until love gets in the way. And Light up the Sky, at the Shaw festival. It’s a love letter to the theatre and the possessed people who create it.

Let’s start with Shakespeare. What were the best of intentions and how did love get in the way?

The scholarly King Ferdinand of Navarre and the Lords attending him, namely: Berowne, Longaville and Dumaine, pledge to sequester themselves to study and deny themselves pleasure for three year. That means no girls. This unsettled the dashing and flirty, Berowne—no women? Are they kidding? They were not kidding. So they all make the pledge.

But then the Princess of France and her three ladies attending her, namely: Rosaline, Maria and Katherine, come calling on official business. What are the four scholarly men to do?

Well they are to act like full-bodied men when they see a beautiful woman; they fall in love and secretly try to court their love, but not tell their scholarly friends for fear of public humiliation.

Because the women are more on the ball than the guys are they know their guys are fickle and flirty. The women are more mature and smarter in knowing that.

The women give the guys a serious challenge at the end of the play to test their commitment. The men are left with a sobering dilemma—do they rise to the occasion or don’t they? Shakespeare being trickly.

In its way Love’s Labour’s Lost is a love story that expects the participants to be serious with their affections and their pledges.

How’s the production?

I found it beautiful to look at—Patrick Clark’s set is the essence of bucolic. Greenery spills over the balcony and down the stairs. There are pots of plants. The lighting is warm and dappled.

But I found almost the whole of John Caird’s production to be dreary. His staging seems so old fashioned. The women seem to be in a constant state of twirl. When in doubt have a woman character in a gorgeous billowing dress twirl around the stage, seemingly for nothing better to do.

When the late Robin Phillips arrived at Stratford as the new Artistic Director he said that he would get rid of the twirling direction. And he did. I wish that happened here.

When a character moves for no reason then you have trouble. Added to this John Caird has directed this with such a slow pace. The acting is uneven with four sparkling standouts.

Why are they standouts?

Because they just have that inventive confidence about them. They know how to polish every word in a sentence and make it effortless and seemingly said for the first time. They mine for laughs that are never cheap and shoddy.

Who are the four standouts?


Mike Shara plays Berowne. He’s tall, slim, tousle-haired, confident, a bit of a playboy with oodles of charm and he knows how to play an audience like a Stradivarius.

Juan Chioran plays Don Adriano de Armado, a Spanish braggart. He who wants to join the King in his study plans when he’s not flirting with a local dairy maid. He is a made-up, over the top dandy. He is very serious with his thick Spanish accent that is hilarious, since much of what he says is mangled, in an effort to be clever.

Tom Rooney as Holofernes, a schoolmaster, can fill up any character he plays with nuance and little details that add all sorts of colour to his portrayal.

And Brian Tree as Nathaniel the curate is mournful, watchful and he too knows how to be economical in the playing and whips up such funny business with little effort. It is a pleasure to watch these men.

It’s not pleasant watching the others just trying to say their lines and make it seem like conversation, and what it sounds like is laboured effort. I was really disappointed in the women—lots of twirling around the stage, showing off their pretty frocks but little creativity in the playing.

We better go on to Light up the Sky. How was that?

I found it a total delight. It was written by Moss Hart and it’s about the shenanigans of the theatre, in other words, it’s a love letter to the theatre. Audiences love that.

In this case we are in Boston for an out of town try-out for a Broadway bound play. The producer is a jolly, loud rich fella named Sidney Black and this is his first show. There is nothing quiet about his man. He shows off his money—we are in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton.

His wife Frances has a high-pitched voice with her own special brand of charm–she was some ice skating star. There are various other players: Carleton Fitzgerald is the director who never met a moment that wouldn’t make him cry. Peter Stone is the nervous, excited playwright—this is his first play. Owen Turner is an old hand at out of town try-outs since he’s a playwright who’s endured many out of town try-outs. And Irene Livingston is the over-dramatic, larger than life leading lady of the production.

Over the course of the play they will hit the heights, be plunged into despair and rise again—sometimes all of it in five minutes.

Playwright Moss Hart knew a thing or two about all if it since he experienced it himself in his career as both director and playwright.

More than anything I loved how the love and lure of the theatre touches the most jaded of pros and dazzles the most innocent of the star struck, who then want to go into the theatre for real. There is no rhyme or reason for their devotion—it just is. That’s good enough for me.

How is this production?

It’s directed by Blair Williams. He’s such a gifted director. He knows how to realize the humour in the piece by being both subtle and shameless. He’s fearless in finding the humour in a moment or creating it where it’s not there, and thus livens a scene.

The montage at the beginning by Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson is eye-popping. Under Blair Williams’ direction the cast does wonderful work and in some cases I found startling it is so unexpected and creative.

As Sidney Black, Thom Marriott is a blusterer and yet has sweet charm. He bubbles with enthusiasm; he’s never mean. He’s forceful in his convictions and I guess that’s how his character got his money.

As his wife Frances, Kelli Fox gives a performance unlike anything I’ve seen her ever give. Frances is flighty, giggly and has a high pitched voice. She never stops talking and moving.

Claire Jullien as Irene Livingston knows how to play to an adoring crowd, whether it’s in a theatre or a hotel suite; she is weary, joyful, depressed, demure and always calculating a scene to be played. In other words she is that large than life creature known as a grande dame of the theatre.

The production is full of lovely touches in all its performances, including a stuffed parrot who knows how to steal a scene. Good fun, well done. See it.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at twitter @slotkinletter.

Love’s Labour’s Lost plays at the Stratford Festival until Oct. 9.

Light Up the Sky plays at the Shaw Festival until Oct. 11.

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