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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Little happens in the play that one normally associates with his romantic comedies save some mistaken identities and misdirected missives. All else is dialogue, albeit of the finest crafted sort. This wordiness, sans action may account for “Love’s” lack of popularity, though one would be foolish to dismiss it on these grounds.Terrence O’Brien, the always imaginative artistic director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Garrison, New York, has embraced the Bard’s conception, giving the language its proper due while at the same time shaping a production filled with the highjinks and colorful staging the festival is known for.
The plot is simple and is nothing more than a set of circumstances allowing for sharp, barbed and witty verbal duels between four sets of lovers — each pair attracted to one another, but somehow determined to push the stubbornness envelope when it comes to the process of wooing. It's set in the pastoral kingdom of Navarre where there’s a farmhand, a dairymaid and a couple of cows in evidence to make the point.
Ferdinand, the King (Richard Ercole) exacts a pledge from three of his lords — Berowne (Jason O’Connell), Longaville (Charlie Francis Murphy) and Dumaine (Drew Lewis) — that they will renounce women while they devote themselves to their studies for three years, (We’re not told why their study habits are so bad as to demand this vow, but no matter.) They all sign the King’s document, though Berowne, who seems the most hot blooded of the trio, resists at first.
No sooner have the lords sworn off love than a princess (Denise Cornier), the daughter of the King of France, arrives with her diplomatic escort, Boyet (Wesley Mann) and three lovely ladies, Rosaline (Katie Hartke), Maria (Anna Hanson) and Katherine (Ally Farzetta) in tow. Ferdinand and the princess take an immediate shine to one another, and the ladies and lords seem equally smitten with one another.
What to do? Tear up the “anti-love” contract and end the play scarcely half an hour into it? No way, Jose! We’ve got to witness encounter after encounter between the four couples, each with their special style and slant on love, as well as several “games” involving Russian disguises and swapped jewelry. It’s all meant to test the depth of the players’ love as well as giving the playwright an opportunity (as if he needed one) to shamelessly demonstrate why he is the greatest wordsmith in history.
The actors playing the three lords give good account of themselves, etching their characters with humorous touches that reveal the fragility of male egos when confronted by women their intellectual (and linguistic) equal. O’Connell’s Berowne and Hartke’s Rosaline are the juiciest parts and these two actors go at it like Hepburn and Tracy used to in films.
To keep things from getting too one note, Shakespeare introduced a collection of secondary, comic characters that in reality could have been borrowed from any one of his other comic plays. They have little to with the main plot, but inhabit a separate comic environment of their own. Needless to say, a couple of them are country bumpkins – Costard (Ryan Quinn) and Anthony Dull (Jack Mackie), while Jaquenetta (Gabra Zackman) is a lusty dairymaid.
Veteran festival trouper, Michael Barrelli is hilarious as a would-be lover/poet. With a twisty Salvador Dali mustache and an accent that channels Senor Wences, he is a comic pro. Another veteran, Stephen Paul Johnson, has a more difficult time getting laughs as Holofernes, the schoolmaster and oh-so-precious verbal gymnast. The word games are less accessible here than with the other characters. The same fate befalls Daniel Morgan Shelley as Nathaniel, a curate. These two actors are such polished performers though one cannot fault them, nor fail to enjoy them. An especially engaging turn is offered by Patrick Halley as Moth, a sort of Dead End Kid cum sprite.
Costumes by Rebecca Lustig are quite handsome and/or comic as needed, and William Neal has aptly provided the many bits and pieces that help conjure up this magical setting. Director O’Brien has justly earned many accolades for his work here as well as his commitment to giving all of the Bard’s plays the best possible exposure.
Love’s Labour’s Lost may not be prime Shakespeare but it probably couldn’t be treated more lovingly than it is here. If you’ve never been to this festival before you might be taken aback (but delighted) by the traditional disco dance number involving the entire cast that opens the second act. It’s always a hoot.
Love's Labour's Lost plays in repertory with Romeo and Juliet and The 39 Steps. through September 2nd.