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“No running on stage,” someone reminds the actors during rehearsal. “It’s going to get slippery!” Not a common problem with Shakespeare plays, maybe, but this production of Love’s Labor’s Lost takes place outdoors—and Super Soakers and water balloons are involved.
With the production design team, “We talked about a Norman Rockwell summer-camp aesthetic colliding with an Edith Wharton garden party,” says director Kelly Galvin (CFA’17).
The family-friendly Shakespeare & Company production runs through August 18, 2018, at The Mount, Wharton’s estate in Lenox, Mass. It’s just a couple minutes down the road from the troupe’s headquarters, but about as far from a proscenium stage as you can get, in a spot called the Dell, at the bottom of a broad, sloping lawn surrounded by trees. Watching a rehearsal from a blanket spread on the grass, it’s easy to slip into a midsummer afternoon’s dream.
“It’s one of those Shakespeare plays that gets dismissed by scholars and critics because it’s not one of the great tragedies,” Galvin says. “But I think it’s a beautiful little play, and though it’s quite whimsical, it really does have some profound ideas. We thought it was a great play for this space.”
In this early comedy from the Bard, the King of Navarre (Rylan Morsbach) has just committed himself and his courtiers to three years of study and reflection during which they will renounce all worldly pleasures, including romance. The arrival of the Princess of France (Rory Hammond) and her ladies quickly throws a wrench into this plan, not to mention a couple of banana peels, metaphorically speaking. Next thing you know, the King and his posse are costumed as Muscovites to charm (?) the women, high-stepping down the lawn and speaking in bad Russian accents.
“All the characters in the play are constantly trying to show off how smart they are, but they’re not really using their intelligence to do anything good,” Galvin says. “I think the journey of the play is them discovering through their relationships with each other that that’s not how they want to live their lives.”
She adds, “It’s a play about how we use our gifts.”
Galvin grew up in Elmira, N.Y., where her grandmother, the late Clare Reidy, taught theater and the humanities at a couple of area colleges. Reidy took a Shakespeare & Company workshop and quickly became a faculty member at its Center for Actor Training. There’s a meeting space named for her there now.
Young Kelly got interested in theater too, and started making regular summer visits to Lenox with her grandmother—“It was just so fun,” she recalls. After her undergraduate education at Wellesley College, she eventually became a member of the troupe, beginning as an assistant to company founder Tina Packer. Galvin’s husband, Ryan Winkles, is also a company member. She acted with the troupe and directed shows in the annual fall festival for high school students. Thinking about her future in theater, she came to BU for a master’s in directing at the College of Fine Arts School of Theatre.
“BU really forced me to think about who am I as an artist and why am I doing this,” she says. “They really pushed me to bring that into the room, to just be who I am and be honest about what I think, and that inspired everybody to come into the room with that kind of openness.”
She had a couple of fellowships after finishing her master’s in 2017, then began to talk to Allyn Burrows, artistic director, about making her return with Shakespeare & Company. Love’s Labor’s Lost was on the schedule, and Galvin had directed it in the high school festival and acted in the company’s own production in 2013.
“Kelly is a top-notch director who we are fortunate to say came up through the company culture here at Shakespeare & Company,” says Burrows. “She has a keen eye and strong point of view and will make this production unique and lively.”
So it is that she’s sitting happily on a blanket, watching the cast go through their first dress rehearsal in the heat.
“One thing I greatly appreciate was her giving the space for all of us to work together and make this play together,” says Bella Pelz (CFA’18), who names a CFA production of Caucasian Chalk Circle directed by Galvin as a highlight of her years as a theater arts major. “She really just lets her actors play, and we figure out how to play together, and then she molds it. She meets the actors where we are.”
Galvin brought Pelz and another recent School of Theatre alum, Emily Eldridge-Ingram (CFA’17), to Lenox to play Moth and Dull, minor characters who both happen to be at home in the outdoors. Their costumes look like modified Boy Scout or park ranger uniforms, right alongside formally dressed Navarre nobles and those wacky Muscovites.
Galvin and her design team wanted to find a world for the play that fit into the natural setting but also worked for kids coming to see it. Love’s Labor’s Lost is often set at the turn of the last century, pre–World War I, but that wasn’t necessarily meaningful for an elementary schooler. Bring on the Super Soakers.
“Navarre was a real place, but it’s a very imaginary version in the play, so we felt free to create something that is its own world,” Galvin says.
Longtime troupe members still wax rhapsodic about the days when Shakespeare & Company was its own world, in residence at The Mount while producing its shows there, an arrangement that ended in 2001. It’s easy to imagine what that must have been like when you see cast members marching along paths in the woods during a break, scripts in hand, mouthing those lines that have been giving them trouble. But those costumes also weigh heavy in the heat, and a pair of plastic drumsticks used to play “The Girl from Ipanema” on the xylophone melted in the sun.
Galvin says she’s ready, having learned resilience at BU, too. “Doing this play in the heat is really challenging, but at the same time I’m like, eh.” She shrugs it off. “I’m just so used to bouncing back.”
Love’s Labor’s Lost runs at The Mount, 2 Plunkett St., Lenox, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 pm and Saturdays at 11 am through August 11, 2018, and at 11 am on August 18, 2018. General admission tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for youth up to age 17, available at 413-637-3353 or shakespeare.org. Bring chairs, blankets, and a picnic. Rental chairs ($2) are also available.