July Onstage / Shaw and Shakespeare start up
A look at THE HORSE AND HIS BOY and LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST
Jay Turvey as Bree, Matt Nethersole as Shasta, Madelyn Kriese as Aravis, and Kristi Frank as Hwin with the cast of The Horse and His Boy.
Photo by Emily Cooper
Through July 21
The Horse and His Boy
Festival Theatre at Shaw Festival
10 Queen’s parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Adapted for the Stage by: Anna Chatterton
Based on the novel by: C.S. Lewis
Director: Christine Brubaker
Cast: David Ball, Jane Johanson, Krystal Kiran, Madelyn Kriese, George Krissa, Julie Lumsden, Stewart Adam McKensy, Drew Plummer, Genny Sermonia, Jacqueline Thair
The Horse and His Boy Following the success of The Magician’s Nephew—a Narnia prequel—last season, the Shaw Festival embarked on another C. S. Lewis story featuring strong young characters: The Horse and His Boy. Don’t let the title mislead you; the story features not just one, but two young women—Aravis and Queen Susan—who assert their identities and rebel against forced marriages. Shasta is a young boy in servitude who accompanies Aravis, each with a talking Narnian horse, on a quest to live free. They land in Narnia, the only point of familiarity for those anticipating a Narnia tale.
Whereas last season’s The Magician’s Nephew provided an entry point for newcomers to the world while at the same time deepening knowledge for stalwarts, The Horse and his Boy performs no such service: these are new characters and new lands, which, for better or worse, puts everybody on the same page. As a never-read-a-Narnia book audience member, I preferred it this way, but I sense I’m in the minority.
A preshow workshop assists in generating engagement from an audience full of children, but I wondered how easily the kids were able to follow this story, which often moved from plot-obstacle to plot-obstacle with nothing but long-winded exposition to help make sense of it. This is the challenge in adapting plot-driven, adventure-heavy books for the stage; there is no simple way to take all that prosy, explanatory text and make it dramatic, and despite playwright Anna Chatterton’s best efforts, this show suffers for it. The work of making drama from exposition falls to director Christine Brubaker but there’s only so much she can do.
Which is not to say the Festival is not providing good theater with this show. Jennifer Goodman’s design often creates a mesmerizing backdrop for the adventures, and some solid ensemble work—from what appears to be largely a crop of Shaw newcomers—creates energy that serves the show well. The scene where they all become Narnia animals was a highlight, and Jay Turvey is the perfect Narnian horse, Bree; much of the show’s humor comes from his physicality. Brubaker also finds room for humor in Aravis’s spirited friend Lasaraleen (Krystal Kiran), even if we never really know the basis of that friendship, and the addition of music also gives the show liveliness where it needs some.
Overall, I enjoyed Horse more than The Magician’s Nephew because the protagonists had some real stakes to fight for, and having that search for identity and freedom driving the action made all the difference in the show’s logic and pacing.
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Directed by Steve Vaughan
July 25-August 18
Shakespeare in Delaware Park
199 Lincoln Pkwy, Buffalo
1. SYNOPSIS: The King of Navarre and his three companions—Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville—commit to a life of study and self-improvement for three years. This means putting aside all thoughts of women and love. To help them keep their oath, the King demands that all women must remain at least a mile from the court. That doesn’t work out so well, because this is a comedy.
2. Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of William Shakespeare’s early comedies, believed to have been written in 1595 or 1596—which would make it contemporaneous with Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream—for a 1597 performance at the Inns of Court before Queen Elizabeth I.
3.Though LLL is a comedy, it’s known for its dense language, full of wordplay, puns, poetry, and literary allusion that are demanding of both actors and audience. “Shakespeare seems to seek the limits of his verbal resources, and discovers that there are none,” said scholar Harold Bloom.
4.Though it is not the longest play (that was Hamlet, as we said in May), Love’s Labour’s Lost features the longest scene (5.2), the longest single word (honorificabilitudinitatibus), and, if uncut, the longest speech in all of Shakespeare’s plays.
5.There is evidence of a Shakespeare play written in 1598 called Love’s Labour’s Won, but as no copies have survived, nobody is sure if the play is a sequel, or just an earlier title of an existing work.
6.WHAT THEY SAID: “Love’s Labour’s Lost isn’t as widely produced as other Shakespeare comedies. It takes dexterous actors to master the script’s language and pacing—too wild and you’ll exhaust your audience, too slow and you’ll lose their attention. Less-than-confident line readings can doom a performance.”–Ken Jaworowski, New York Times, 2015
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