Arts & Culture

Shakespeare returns to Wright Park – with a love-trip to the ’70s

Members of the Seattle Shakespeare Company perform “Love’s Labor’s Lost” in a Seattle park.
Members of the Seattle Shakespeare Company perform “Love’s Labor’s Lost” in a Seattle park. Courtesy

Four guys swear off love for three years. Then four cute girls show up. Sound like a recipe for disaster? Actually, it sounds like Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” one of the Bard’s most verbally witty comedies — and it’s coming to Wright Park on Friday night (Aug. 5). After last year’s hugely successful debut Tacoma show, Seattle Shakespeare Company will bring a free outdoor summer performance again to the park. And those four guys? Turns out they’re self-absorbed health nuts from the 1970s.

“Last year was phenomenally successful,” said company director George Mount of the first-time Wright Park show that saw around 650 people flocking to the tree-lined stage for “As You Like It” — more than two-and-a-half times the Seattle average. “The crowd was boisterous, enthusiastic and really welcoming.”

It was also much bigger than the company, or Metro Parks Tacoma, had expected. So securing city funding for a repeat performance this year — last year’s was underwritten by an anonymous Tacoma donor — wasn’t a problem.

Friday night, Tacoma will see the company’s touring production of “Love’s Labor’s Lost” (“Hamlet” is the other play currently touring the Seattle area). One of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, written around 1594-5, the comedy tells of three lords and a king who, soon after vowing to give up women for three years to improve themselves, fall in love with a visiting princess and her ladies. It isn’t a typical Shakespeare comedy. First, it doesn’t end with everyone pairing up in marriages — something even the characters themselves admit is standard Elizabethan practice. And second, it relies heavily on wordplay for the jokes, rather than pratfalls or ridiculous situations. Add in the fact that it isn’t well known and you’ve got a challenge for outdoor theater.

“It’s wordy,” says Mount. “It sets up as your typical Shakespeare with quick-witted, sharp-tongued protagonists, goofy academics and ridiculous rustics, and you think it’s going to cook along. But then boy meets girl, boy loses girl and it stays there. That kind of intellectual comedy works really well indoors. But we’re doing a bright and jovial outdoor show.”

The solution?

“(We) upped the goofball factor,” says Mount.

Director Mary Machala decided to set the play in one of the most colorful, silly periods — the late 1970s — and make the lead characters obsessive about their own mental, physical and spiritual well-being. The setting is a spa retreat, there are jokes about disco, Jazzercise and mantras. And you can imagine the costumes.

“We have the same audience as Shakespeare did,” Mount points out. “The groundlings and the intellectuals. So there are references to Greek and Roman gods — and then there are ladies in leggings. It’s really, really funny.”

And this year, Mount really hopes he won’t be onstage. The company director filled in at the last minute for a sick actor at last year’s Tacoma show, and this summer stepped in when anotherE actor got food poisoning just before “Hamlet.”

“I’ll be on hand, but it’s not my intention to go on stage,” says Mount wryly.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

Shakespeare in Wright Park

What: “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” by William Shakespeare.

Who: Seattle Shakespeare Company.

When: 7 p.m. Friday (Aug. 5).

Where: Wright Park (between the spray park and the pond), 501 S. I St., Tacoma.

Cost: Free.

Information: 206-733-8228, metroparkstacoma.com, seattleshakespeare.org.

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