One of Shakespeare's earlier comedies, "Love's Labours Lost" is, on its simplest level, one of the easiest for modern audiences to comprehend: Seeking self-improvement, a king swears himself and male members of his court to three years of abstinence from partying and women. How long until all fail to live up to their vows? It's almost immediate. But then there are the inadvertently switched love letters, the pretentious Spanish ambassador, and the flirtatious members of the French court. Even with much of Shakespeare's dated social satire whizzing by modern audiences, it's quite amusing.
Director Louis Fantasia has taken accessibility one step further in the current California Shakespeare Company production: His cast is in modern dress.
It's "modern" relative to Shakespeare's time, at least, with the upper-class principals costumed as dandies and flappers from the Roaring '20s--think of Jay Gatsby, Bertie Wooster or Lord Peter Wimsey and you'll understand the milieu.
It works, sort of, in what's quite a departure for the company. "Love's Labours Lost" is the first of the company's productions to be directed by someone other than Artistic Director William Fisher, and Fisher's conventions are largely disregarded. In addition to the updated setting, this show features something of a set (those two cardboard trees are as much a contrast to Fisher's usual minimalist trappings as a production of "Phantom of the Opera" would be from "The Odd Couple"). All of which is a way of saying to fans of Fisher's shows: Expect something different here, even if you recognize some familiar faces among the cast.
Kelly Vincent stars as Ferdinand, King of Navarre (an independent country on the Spanish peninsula), with Anthony Liveri, Mark Tortorici and Stephen A. Carver as the members of his court. Shannon Fill is the princess of France, attended by Megan Dolan, Jeanmarie Flynn and Melissa Piro. The prominent comic roles are Dull, a policeman (Monish Bakshi); Custard, a rustic here portrayed as a sailor (the very funny Mitchell Castro); and Don Adriano, the Spanish ambassador (Joe Barra). Catherine Smith plays Moth, the Spaniard's irreverent assistant.
The acting is acceptable throughout, with no standout performances in a play that really has no standout roles, and the costumes are nifty.
The company's next production will be "Henry V."
* WHAT: "Love's Labours Lost."
* WHERE: California Shakespeare Company Theater, 6685 Princeton Ave., Moorpark.
* WHEN: Friday and Saturday evenings at 8; Sunday afternoons at 3 through Oct. 23.
* COST: $12 general admission; $10 for students and seniors.
* CALL: 498-3354 or 373-9243.