Zany Love’s Labour’s Lost
Also see Bob's review of Les Misérables
The young King Ferdinand of Navarre (located between France and Spain which, in the 16th century, was mostly gobbled up by Spain with the balance then going to France) induces three of his friends – the lords Berowne, Dumain and Longaville – to join him in forsaking all contact with women for three years in order to devote themselves to hermetic study. Although Berowne is decidedly dubious of both the possibility and benefit of so doing, all agree.
A major complication is the imminent arrival of the Princess of France on a mission on behalf of her father, the King of France, involving a dispute over land and monies, which proves of little concern to the matters at hand. She is attended by three ladies, Rosaline, Maria and Katherine (and a lord, Boyet). As we realize from the get-go, in short order, Ferdinand and his lords will be smitten with the French damsels and foreswear their vows.
There follows a comic charade in which the four boys from Navarre disguise themselves as Russians to court Les Femmes, and the latter (made aware of their intention) disguise themselves as one another to confound and mock their suitors. The ending is more ambiguous and muted than the action leading to it would indicate.
Present are a great number of additional comic characters. These include a disreputable Spanish knight and braggart (Don Adriano), and a clown (Costard), both of whom are smitten with a dairymaid (Jaquenetta). Add a pompous schoolmaster (Holofernes) and, his partner in fractured conversation, a credulous curate (Nathaniel), and a comic constable (Anthony Dull) for a total of six clownish characters who serve precious little purpose other than to supply vaudevillian turns concluding with a theatrical presentation of the Nine Worthies (those interested in the Worthies are herein encouraged to do their own research).
Director Brian B. Crowe has successfully taken a wonderfully right-headed approach to Love’s Labour Lost. His players are dressed in bright, pastel colored variations of frilly clothing of the Victorian era (the colors of the costumes of each of the four pair of lovers are color coordinated). The settings, a palace in a garden and various locations in the garden, are presented brightly and with relative specificity. Taking advantage of the fact that only two basic “sets” are needed to provide the locations, the vague unit set in which we usually see Shakespeare performed has been excised. The manner in which a palace library is transformed into gardens is pleasing and ingenious.
More central to the production's success is the zany approach that Crowe has taken with his four principal couples whose actions are at heart no less foolish than that of his supporting clowns. Particularly with Ferdinand and his lords, he succeeds in turning the play into a rollicking farce, removing the cobwebs which were evident in an earlier Labour’s production here.
I want to tell you about Act IV, Scene III. In the particular context of this production, it is more factually and tonally accurate to call it the scene at the top of the second act. In this production, it is set in the palace library. Each of the four swains has written a love poem to his particular desired damsel. As each enter alone, hide to spy on one other, vaingloriously express their feelings, and the unexposed Berowne hypocritically mocks the others, the direction and performances attain ever increasing farcical delight. It is as if we are seeing Shakespeare performed by the Marx Brothers. By the time, others have entered and the quartet have climbed over one another on a couch as they reach for Berowne’s torn love note, the action visually calls to mind the stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera.
Thomas M. Hammond is excellent as Berowne, the clearest eyed and wittiest of the swains. His reading of the text is always natural and clear no matter how delightfully farcical the action. Hammond and first rate cohorts David Furr, Troy Scarborough and Benjamin Eakeley provide the production with the delightful central performances which make it special.
While their intended ladies are crueler and less amusing than the suitors, Victoria Mack as the particularly witchy Rosaline and Caralyn Kozlowski as the Princess are particularly adept and effective.
As Don Adriano, Eric Hoffmann was clearly an audience favorite. However, his mock Spanish accent made much of his dialogue incomprehensible to me. Overall, I found that the six “clowns” pressed too hard and employed inconsistent vocal tricks (one sings like an angel at the end of the play after employing extremely odd intonations and vocal sounds throughout).
Especially good work is contributed by Molly McCann as the page Moth. She buoyantly conveys the youthful lad’s enthusiasm.
All in all, the delightful farce which Brian B. Crowe has drawn from Love’s Labour’s Lost provides for an unexpectedly bright and entertaining start to the STNJ’s new season.
Love’s Labour’s Lost will continue performances through June 27 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey Kirby Theatre, 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road), Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office – 973-408-5600; online www.shakespearenj.org.
Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare; directed by Brian B. Crowe; Cast: (from Navarre) David Furr (King Ferdinand); Thomas M. Hammond (Berowne); Troy Scarborough (Longaville): Benjamin Eakeley (Dumain); Brian Schilb (Anthony Dull); David Foubet (Costard); Mandy Olsen (Jaquenetta); Eric Hoffmann (Don Adriano); Molly McCann (Moth); Ames Adamson (Holofernes); Duncan Hazard (Nathaniel); Kevin O’Bryant, Al Vota (Servants); (from France) Caralyn Kozlowski (Princess of France);Victoria Mack (Rosaline); Erin Partin (Maria); Laura A. Simms (Katharine); Greg Jackson (Boyet)