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Off-Broadway Review

Love's Labour's Lost

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Love's Labour's Lost
Photo Source: John Haynes
One of Shakespeare's earliest plays, "Love's Labour's Lost" is also one of his most frothy, at least until its famously tragicomic ending. Out of densely plotted chaos ornamented with puns and well-wrought wordplay comes a comedy teeming with rapturous romantic poetry and sage, wistful observations on the paradoxical nature of love. This production is staged by Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe, which is appearing in New York City for the first time since 2005. And it's a notable revival indeed: There is more farce and honest-to-God shtick than in a half-dozen Feydeau plays or the highest-octane Molière.

Dromgoole, chiefly through Jonathan Fensom's design, transforms the stage of the Schimmel Center into something meant to approximate the wooden O that the Globe calls its London home. Instructing the actors to exhibit precision and alacrity, he also frees them to make mirth to excess. Allusions to sex are as rife and ribald visually as those found in the text.

At the top of the play, the King of Navarre (Philip Cumbus) and three loyal noblemen—Berowne (Trystan Gravelle), Dumaine (Jack Farthing), and Longaville (William Mannering)—swear off the fairer sex. However, when the Princess of France (Michelle Terry) and her comely retinue—Rosaline (Thomasin Rand), Maria (Jade Anouka), and Katherine (Siân Robins-Grace)—materialize, all bets are off.

Meanwhile, Spanish swordsman Armado (Paul Ready) is besotted with Jaquenetta (Rhiannon Oliver), a rustic lass of less-than-noble standing. He engages his sprightly page Moth (Seroca Davis) and the impeccable imbecile Costard (Fergal McElherron) to expedite professions of his devotion. Complications ensue, of course, while seasoning the plot are the avuncular but no less libidinous scholars Holofernes (Christopher Godwin) and Sir Nathaniel (Patrick Godfrey).

To the degree that "Love's Labour's Lost" is a purely rollicking, driving adventure, Dromgoole's foot remains hard on the pedal. He extracts ingenious pickup from Ready's daft, soulful Armado, while Terry's French princess is a bottomless well of pert flirtatiousness and whimsy. Similarly, the unrepentant, lusty Costard is a succulent dish given to us to dine on by the diminutive McElherron.

Still, there comes a moment in this asthma-inducing production when one must ask if too much shtick is good for the play. It's audacious, yes, to overlay sight gags and physical comedy where the play's most poetic passages occur. But it comes at a price, constantly threatening to cheapen, if not overwhelm, Shakespeare's sweet sentiment. The audience is right to eat up all the high jinks, but they come too close to robbing us of the play's tender and rueful final message.

Presented by 2Luck Concepts at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, 3 Spruce St., NYC. Dec. 10–21. Tue.–Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 and 7:30 p.m. (Additional performance Mon., Dec. 21, 8 p.m.) (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.  

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