Shakespeare can often be considered as unapproachable in our culture. Though his name is ubiquitous, his work can be difficult for contemporary audiences, and thus it is constantly being retooled in “modern” language. Shakespeare’s language, though, is not as far removed from ours as we might think, and underneath the language, the themes of his plays are touching and universal. That is why he was popular in 1598, and that is why he still persists today, even if it is as a cultural figurehead, high on a shelf.
But Shakespeare doesn’t have to be out of reach. Improbable Fictions is a series of staged readings of Shakespeare which gives students a chance to see and hear Shakespeare in ways that the normal classroom cannot provide. Their March 10th reading of Love’s Labours Lost, (one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known comedies) directed by Scott Free, does just that – it presents not “better than thou” Shakespeare, not high art Shakespeare, but penny seats, laugh out loud Shakespeare.
We follow Ferdinand (played by Charles Prosser), Biron (David Bolus), Longaville (Russell Frost), and Dumain (Lawson Hangartner), a group of students who have sworn to dedicate their lives to study, barring food, rest, and (most grievous of all!) women from their court in order to facilitate this study. Fate, however, has different plans, as the princess of France (Sara-Margaret Cates) arrives at Ferdinand’s court with her entourage, Rosalind (Jean Fuller-Scott), Maria (Abby Jones), and Katharine (Meredith Wiggins), in tow. Hilarity and romance ensue as the men fall deeply in love with the women, and the women fall deeply in love with teasing the men.
Yet, Improbable Fictions does not present a play, but rather a staged reading – a prepared, blocked, and acted reading, but a reading nonetheless. The stage is bare: two wooden benches serve as castle, library, and courtyard. In fact, the “stage” is simply the floor of a lecture hall. And, as it is a reading, the actors still have the scripts in their hands. Yet, perhaps this is a perfect situation for an actor: he or she can be free to experiment with the character in any way that he or she likes. Charles Prosser, for instance, delivers a stunning and hilarious faux Russian accent which (though it is textually based) is unexpected and delightful. Lawson Hangartner and Meredith Wiggins have an almost unbearable amount of chemistry, and it is easy to forget if they are acting or not, even with the scripts in their hands.
Steve Burch, though, steals the show with his portrayal of Costard, the “fool” character of Love’s Labours Lost – a sort of idiot savant who is at once hilarious and profound. We aren’t allowed to laugh forever though, as David Bolus and Jean Fuller-Scott present us with a tear-jerking parting kiss.
And this is the heart of Shakespeare. The witty (and often bawdy) comedy, and the gut-wrenching tragedy. The stage is bare and the actors have scripts because it isn’t necessary for Shakespeare to be set in any certain time period with elaborate costumes – quite the opposite. Shakespeare has survived for over four hundred years because he speaks to the very heart of humanity. Love’s Labours Lost isn’t just about sixteenth century France: it is also about twenty-first century America. As Scott Free puts it in his director’s notes: “It is charming witty people saying charming witty things.” You certainly don’t have to be artsy to enjoy that.
For more information on Improbable Fictions, and for details on upcoming readings, please visit http://improbablefictions.wordpress.com/.