Is love’s labor ever really lost? I mean, love’s like a poem, a sailboat or a perfect, vine-ripened, sun-warmed tomato–inefficient and ephemeral. Their value is found in the moment of experience.
And that exquisite moment is found on the lawn in River Oaks (in Paso Robles), sharing sandwiches and summer salads with friends, sipping wine and watching the players of the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival perform WS’s play, “Love’s Labor’s Lost.”
It’s a sort of strange comedy, ending as it does not with marriage but with death. The King of Navarre and his two pals (reminding me of certain graduate students I’ve known in a slightly scary way) decide to devote themselves to study for three years, resisting the call of love and all that might be associated with it. They take stern vows, but practically as soon as they have made them they encounter the visiting Princess of France and her BFFs. The men are immediately smitten, but in ways familiar to all adolescents, determine to hide their affections and forsake their pledge. Quickly discovered and mocked, the men nonetheless win the attention of the Princess and her consorts. But the women remain unconvinced, for if the men could so quickly break their vows to chastity and scholarship will they not similarly foreswear their oaths of love?
Still, the women are nearly won over when real life intrudes upon the drama; the King of France has died and his daughter must return home. Saddened, the women leave their lovers, promising their suitors that if the men can hold fast to these new promises of love for a year and a day, the girls will seriously consider their offers.
Love’s labor is lost, overwhelmed by the larger demands of the world. And the audience is left with an enigma; does the play offer a happy ending or not? It’s a post modern play that can be read as one likes–nothing is determinate.
I’ve seen several productions of this play over the years, but nothing as charming as this version. It’s the third year I’ve attended the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival, and each time I have the same reaction. The language feels more fresh, the humor less studied, the emotion more real than I ever experienced elsewhere. The sets are sparse, the costumes seem largely culled from old boxes and consignment stores, the stage is tiny and the lakeside park where the play takes place is adjacent to a golf course and housing tract.
Nonetheless. It’s another expression of localism.
In their simplicity the plays emerge as true labors of love, always somehow getting to the heart of the foolish human condition.
Speaking of the human condition, I also attend the California Mid-State fair annually where a great deal of humanity is also on stage.
When I was a kid growing up in So Cal, the L.A. County Fair was a major attraction. We were given free tickets at school and attendance at the “Piggy Fair” was ritualized. My family always went twice. We generally went on the first Friday that the Fair was opened, often with another family, eating a picnic on the wooden tables and then cruising the Fun Zone (a region of which my father was most dubious). We rode the big ferris wheel and the then new monorail and on one memorable evening the ride broke down and we had to climb down–escorted by firemen–on long ladders. Fabulous! We also always came for one long Sunday when we ate fair food, perused the barns and watched Scottish bagpipers dance and wail.
(I was also traumatized on one of these days. On a trip to the hog barn I observed a mother sow with her litter which included a tiny runt. The other larger piglets pushed it out of the way as they nursed and the baby pig sat whimpering in the corner. I asked my father about it and he said it would certainly die. “Die?” I screamed. I wanted to take the pig home, an idea quickly nixed by my father. I cried. It was my first encounter with mortality and the brevity of life.)
I pay homage to these days at the local fair. I’m not really up to a 12 hour visit these days, so we generally arrive in the mid to late afternoon, watch the animal shows where we learn to distinguish between a “stocky” young pig (aren’t all swine by definition somewhat stocky?) and a flat-backed blue ribbon prize winner. (Although it’s somewhat disconcerting to see the 4H kids treat their animals as pets and then sell them for dinner. Ah well, I’m not a farm girl.) We taste the winning olive oil, sample local wines, examine photography and listen to a concert (sometimes free, sometimes paid for). This time we sat under an oak tree as the light faded listening to Steve Tyrell (an old-school style crooner who became celebrated for his singing in the film “Father of the Bride.” This is usually not exactly my thing but it was actually delightful).
What does cotton candy have in common with Shakespeare?
The sweetness can’t last.
Yeah, yeah, I know. You can buy a snow cone machine to keep at home and every English major has volumes of Shakespeare. It’s not the same.
The play’s the thing.
My friend Gail made a zucchini pasta topped with raw tomato sauce. Tom made a fresh cherry clafoutis and Lisa fixed lemon bars. I served out sandwiches made with pastrami or avocado and green salad with balsamic dressing. We drank wine and lemonade and I sat close to my sweet sister-in-law. Like the Princess of France’s vacation, the moment can’t last.
The end of summer is in sight.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.
Pick your moments. Be present in the localism of your own life.
Nothing lasts forever.