For Erin Woods, bringing one of William Shakespeare's lesser-known romantic comedies to the Oklahoma City stage has been a labor of love.
Through March 2, Reduxion Theatre Company is performing an updated version of The Bard's “Love's Labour's Lost” at its Broadway Theater, 1613 N Broadway Ave.
“It's something that I fell in love with as a child because I just thought it was adorable. You swear off women, and then four perfect women show up at your doorstep. And that's just how it goes,” said Woods, Reduxion's managing director, with a laugh.
“It's actually the first full-length Shakespeare play I ever saw as a child ... as a live performance. And I loved it. I just thought it was the greatest thing in the whole world, but then I just also fell in love with Shakespeare in general.”
In the story, young King Ferdinand of Navarre (Sam Bearer) convinces three of his noble lords — Dumaine (Jeff Burleson), Longaville (Ian Clinton) and Berowne (Mitchell Reid) — to join him in signing an oath to pursue scholarship and eschew women for three years. The ink is no sooner dry than the strong-willed Princess of France (Claire Powers) and her three noble ladies — Katherine (Catherine Pitt), Maria (Susan Riley) and Rosaline (Holly McNatt) — arrive for a diplomatic visit and the men find themselves falling comically in love.
The production opened the week before Valentine's Day, and throughout the run, Reduxion is offering a romantic couple's package that includes Champagne and cupcakes for two.
“If we put it in the Valentine's Day slot, (we knew) people would be more apt to just check it out if they're not familiar with it,” said Woods, who is directing the production.
“It is very fun for us to tackle a show that's not often seen.”
Reduxion is known for putting fresh twists on classic plays, and Woods set “Love's Labour's Lost” in 1953 Spain. The location was a natural fit because the Kingdom of Navarre is now part of northern Spain. Likewise, she selected a year with plenty of royal meaning: 1953 was the year of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, John F. Kennedy's marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier and Audrey Hepburn's breakout playing a princess in “Roman Holiday.”
“You think of it as this really old-fashioned time, but it's actually really progressive in terms of like arts and design. There's a lot of really great things happening in that sort of early midcentury mark,” Woods said.
The production's musical numbers also date to 1953 and include a French rendition of Oklahoma music icon Patti Page's ditty “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window” and a playfully sexed-up cover of The Four Lads' “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” The latter was hard to get through in rehearsals without the cast cracking up, because Woods kept demanding the actors incorporate more male stripper moves.
“We built that ourselves out of scratch. She said, ‘I want some dancing stuff here,' and we just got worse and worse and worse,” Burleson said wryly.
Although Reduxion's production is set in 1953, it maintains the Bard's original language with all its cerebral jokes, elaborate insults and flowery declarations of love.
“I don't feel like I can take any more liberties with it as I would with a very popular show,” Woods said. “I did concern myself with making the show very accessible. ... I wanted to make sure that what I think Shakespeare was doing with the language, which was a bunch of zany craziness, translated onstage.”
The production bears a strong resemblance to a popular cinematic genre of the mid-20th century: the screwball comedy.
“It's got a very broad let's-have-fun mentality to it,” Burleson said. “Some people get scared by Shakespeare ... but it's a very easy story to follow and to really have fun with. I think that's why it's a good choice to take on the library tour.”
Reduxion will give free performances of “Love's Labour's Lost” at 1 p.m. Saturdays March 2-April 13 at different Metropolitan Library System locations. It is the company's third year to take a show to the libraries.
“It's such a casual come-and-go kind of environment that we try to cultivate because the whole point of the library shows is accessibility: accessible because it's free, accessible because it's a Saturday afternoon at your local library,” Woods said.
“We want people to be able to see Shakespeare and be able to experience the joy of it.”