UNIVERSITY PARK - Sometimes when it comes to Shakespeare, lesser proves to be greater.
One of Shakespeare's lesser known plays "Love's Labour's Lost" sallies forth as Penn State Centre Stage's 27th season finale with 7:30 p.m. performances tonight, tomorrow and Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday at the Pavilion Theatre.
Edward Stern, retired producing artistic director of the acclaimed Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, directs "Love's Labour's Lost."
Stern exercises great latitude in the director's chair, neither traditionally staging nor interpreting Shakespeare's romantic comedy.
The Bard's setting is 17h Century England; Stern sets the story one hundred years ago in a "surrealistic version of Newport, Rhode Island."
"This was right before America's entry into World War I. it was America's age of innocence which is synonymous of the characters' exuberant innocence," Stern said. "Shakespeare's storyline is not overly complicated and so is a wonderful play to do." The King of Navarre and his three most-trusted men take an oath to devote their life to scholarship and civilization for a year without the company of women.
But barely has the ink on the compact dried than the beautiful Princess of France and her three gorgeous ladies-in-waiting arrive for a visit. Quickly, make that instantly, all the men fall in love.
But what about their oath? To succumb or not to succumb - therein lies the question.
Witty subplots include a Spanish swordsman trying to woo a country wench only to be foiled by a country idiot and two scholars of sorts who argue, mainly in Latin.
Then too there are seven clowns who add to the lunacy when they perform a play to entertain the nobility. At the end of the play-within-a-play, there is a bittersweet twist and an unusual ending.
The clowns' comical play succeeds in entertaining - and so does Penn State's production of "Love's Labour's Lost."
This was not always the case as, according to Stern, Shakespeare's wordplay was considered "too sophisicated and the humor too pedantic."
The Bard's language was viewed as "too obscure, too oblique and the ending too odd," making it extremely inaccessible to theatergoers. So, although the comedy was rarely produced the last couple of centuries, audiences and critics have come to appreciate how Shakespeare takes the wordplay and wit to the extreme through the four sets of would-be lovers.
This modern version is geared for enjoyment even if one isn't a buff of the Bard. Coinciding with this staging, Penn State is offering a five part series on-line "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." And at noon this Saturday, a luncheon and discussion, "Love at First Sight" at the Pavilion Theatre, will examine the play's witty subplots.
The cast of 18 undergraduate and masters of fine arts students moves with ease around the close-in Pavilion stage under Stern's direction, which adds another unique modern touch, as some of these actors stroll and play original music on their instruments (clarinet, saxaphone, ukulele, guitar and harmonica).
Toss in the usual solid technical support with costuming, properties, lighting and set designs and Penn State Centre Stage makes Shakespeare not only accessible for the masses, but also readily understandable and very entertaining as well.
Prior to last week's opening, Stern said, "I think they (the audience) will be moved, surprised and touched by the play's ending." Not only is the ending a suprise, but the beginning and middle of the cleverly constructed "Love's Labour's Lost" is found to be fit for a king - except for the King of Navarre. He's too busy slowly but surely succumbing to the agony and ecstasy of love.
For more information or for tickets, call 814-865-0255; 800-ARTS-TIX; or visit www.theatre.psu.edu.