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Love's Labour's Lost

a Comedy
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : Georgia Shakespeare [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 3737

SHOWING : June 24, 2010 - August 06, 2010



When four young noblemen swear off love to focus on scholarship, their plans are foiled by the arrival of a beautiful French princess and her ladies in waiting. Shakespeare perfects what every modern sitcom has striven to achieve weaving comedic shenanigans with poetic words all in the name of love.

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Guilting the Lyly
by Dedalus
Monday, July 19, 2010
What if you make an oath that you will abstain from all worldly comforts (women, food, women, sleep, women, drink, and women) so you can engage in a regimen of study, contemplation, and improvement? What if, mere moments after making such an oath, you fall in love? If you pledge your faith to the object of your new-found affection, how can you possibly believe she will trust such a pledge?

Welcome to William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labours Lost,” a favorite of his time, but forgotten for two centuries and seldom-performed today. Seeing Georgia Shakespeare’s lovely production, it’s easy to understand why.

Sure, I can take a pedantic English major’s approach, and remind you that Shakespeare was consciously parodying the style of John Lyly’s courtly dramas of the 1580’s, but, since Mr. Lyly’s oeuvre is very much over and forgotten, such parody is completely pointless today. I could also comment on the central role language plays in this piece – it is, after all, all about words and poems and puns and witty bon mots and oaths and pledges and braggadocio and talk talk talk talk. I could also talk about how the piece has no villain, no conflict, and no tests for the characters to pass, but that would take us right back to the John Lyly factor, and that certainly needs no gilding from me. I perhaps will eventually talk about the wistful ending, in which no love is really found, in which no plot point is actually resolved

What, then, is left for the pleasure of a modern summer audience? Even Kenneth Branagh had to add a few hot and sexy song-and-dance numbers to his 2000 movie version, just to keep us interested.

Well, to be honest, what’s left is a slyly amusing, infinitely profound look at love and friendship and honesty performed by a troupe at the peak of their abilities. What’s left is a warm and wonderful look at a piece that “plays far better than it reads,” that hints at what made it so popular during Elizabethan and Jacobean times, and that actually breaks some of the formulaic plottings we’ve come to expect from Shakespeare’s romances.

To recap the plot, the King of Navarre has persuaded three of his attending gentlemen to enter a monastic lifestyle of study and learning, abjuring women and food and even sleep for the three-year duration of their study. He has even coaxed them all into joining him in signing an oath detailing this commitment. But, being a king, he is almost at once forced into a compromise by the need to negotiate with the daughter of the dying King of France. Setting up the Princess and her ladies in a pavilion before his castle (the oath forbids female entry), he and his friends also fall in love with the delegation. Throw into the mix a pompous visiting Spanish Don, a (very) fey (okay a flaming) professor and his equally fey friend, and a malaprop-spouting rustic and his wench, and the stage is set for an orthographic feast of words, neologisms, pretentious prattle, over-the-top purple poesy, not to mention the usual array of hidden eavesdroppers, witty battle-of-sexes banter, and bawdy licentiousness. There’s even a badly-performed internal “playlet”, prefiguring what will be done by the rude mechanicals scenes of “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

I have to confess to having a weak spot for this sort of stuff. I revel in the English language, and gleefully feast on the wordplay here. In this play, Shakespeare gets to paradoxically “have his word-burgers and scoff at them, too.” He indulges in the worst excesses of the language, all while making fun of those who also indulge. As an example, at one point, Biron expostulates on how such language excesses will forthwith be out of his discourse, yet he expostulates in the form of a perfectly constructed sonnet. The whole production, for me, was a delight from beginning to end.

Brad Sherrill leads the cast as Biron, the most talkative of the King’s gentlemen. This is one of Mr. Sherrill’s most energetic and charming performances, and he makes the most out of every opportunity for humor and affectation. He is ably matched by Park Krausen’s Rosaline, the cleverest of the Princess’s ladies. Brian Kurlander as the King is stoutly dependable, and Carolyn Cook brings her normal excellence to the Princess. If their romance is a bit cooler than the others, well, they are leaders-of-state and have to maintain a modicum of control. Neal Ghant, Daniel May, Courtney Patterson and Caitlin McWelthy fill out the losing lovers’ ranks with characters that are grounded even while they are floating on the wings of Cupid’s intoxications. Chris Kayser brings a warm wryness to the role of Boyet, assistant and harmless chaperone to the Princess and her ladies.

Tim McDonough is suitably over-the-top as Don de Armado, making his linguistic flourishes comical and musical all at once. Tucker Weinmann channels Johnny Depp as Moth, the Don’s eccentric assistant. Joe Knezevich and Ann Marie Gideon are charming and spry as the rustics Costard and Jaquenetta, and Allan Edwards and Brian Harrison bring out the over-the-top outrageousness of the professor and his colleague, without missing the opportunity for some late-in-the-play seriousness and commentary.

All is performed on one of those clever-but-not-smart sets in which Georgia Shakespeare occasionally indulges. An outdoor scene with a row of forced perspective trees and statues looks great, but the perspective is ruined any time anyone stands by the “short end.” If I may make another comment, the scene with increasing number of eavesdroppers is staged in a way that would make everyone supposedly hidden painfully visible to those they are hiding from (the first person to hide is placed behind the “nearest” tree). That the cyclorama is too often lit with a bland, almost grey blue does not help “open” the scene.

Still, these are mere quibbles in what is a charmingly reverent romp into letting yourself be hoist on the petard of your own words. These courtiers do not get away with their casual oath-breaking, and the ending is a nicely elegiac mood-song that runs totally counter to the “every jack shall have his Jill” ending of Shakespeare’s happier work. For me, this ending grounds the play in a way that is more sophisticated (and compelling) than some of Shakespeare’s more mature comedies, and reminds us that words are more than banquets, that they have real meaning and real consequences. “The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.”

As last words go, it’s not bad.

-- Brad Rudy (



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