In what has become a treasured summer tradition, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company returns to Boston Common for the 21st summer of free Shakespeare with Love’s Labour’s Lost, and when CSC says that they want to make Shakespeare accessible to all, they mean it. Thanks to the support of Liberty Mutual, a number of performances will be ASL interpreted, audio-described, and open captioned, the details of which can be found on their website.
Steven Maler, founding artistic director of CSC, is at the helm for this year’s production. Here, Maler talks about the play’s challenging language, his talented cast, and reveals CSC’s greatest asset.
This is the first time CSC is doing Love’s Labour’s Lost on the Common, but is it also the first time that you’re directing it?
No, it’s actually the second. I did the first production with the MFA program at Brandeis. It’s been really fun rediscovering it. It’s a play that’s very hard to read and impenetrable in many ways, but it works so beautifully in performance and it’s been so fun to sort of crack it open again with these really amazing actors that we’ve got working with us this summer.
One of the things that is always brought up about this play is how complicated and convoluted the language is. Has that been a challenge?
Many of my colleagues have said to me that it’s impossible to read, that they can’t understand it. These are people who are steeped in Shakespeare and theater, they struggle with this play. The thing that’s interesting about the play is that the setup is really very simple. In the very beginning of the play you’ve got these four young men who swear that they’re going to forego the distractions of the world: food, women, and sleep, and they’re going to focus their energy on improving their minds. Then four beautiful women show up and everything goes out the window. But you’re absolutely right; many people find the language very difficult, and there are complications about that because part of the language problem is that you have certain characters like Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel that are deliberately, intentionally using language that excludes people from understanding what they’re saying. It’s sort of Shakespeare poking fun at this kind of pseudo-intelligentsia academia speech where words are used as a tool to exclude people from understanding. It’s quite fascinating if you can be patient with it, and we’ve got these fantastic actors who are making this language feel effortless. It’s a play that, in performance, really works beautifully.
It’s a very timely play, in a way. It deals with the hypocrisy of leaders, and that’s something we’re definitely seeing today.
Absolutely! It’s exactly what you’re saying, this sense of hypocrisy, creating this set of rules that you challenge other people to live their lives by but immediately break them yourself before the ink has even dried.
When are you setting the play? Are you doing anything out of the ordinary?
For the world of the play, there’s not a literal setting, but we looked at these places where young men and young women come to learn and we were really kind of tapping into the Harvard-Radcliffe/Yale sense of academes, these worlds of study. There are so many young people here and this play is really about those people; it’s about young people, about people trying to grow up, one of the things I really love about this play is that youthful vibrancy and spirit and that sense of discovery and that sense of learning that is, I feel, so embedded into our experience of being here in Boston. Our audience on the Common skews very young and, this play, as old as it is, it still is so relevant to the struggles that young people are going through as they grow up.
I love hearing that your audience is young!
Yeah, it’s really a cool thing. I really think the greatest thing about CSC is its audience: it’s young, multi-generational, multi-racial, and it’s from all socio-economic spectrums. It really is a snapshot of Boston.
LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST. RUNS THROUGH 8.7 AT PARKMAN BANDSTAND, BOSTON COMMON. FREE. COMMSHAKES.ORG