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A CurtainUp Review
Love's Labour's Lost

Come challenge me.
—Act V, scene ii
Maria Thayer, Patti Murin, Audrey Lynn Weston, Daniel Breaker and Kimiko Glenn
M. Thayer, P. Murin, A. L. Weston, D. Breaker and K. Glenn
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
There is a category of Shakespearean plays known as the "problem plays." Love's Labour's Lost is not one of those plays. For those of us who feel compelled to find a category for everything, however, I'm inclined to describe it as a "challenge play." It's a sometimes densely written play that overflows with contemporary resonance, and that playfully sends up popular forms; the challenge is that these descriptions are apt only for an audience in or around the last years of the Sixteenth Century. What makes the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of this adaptation by director Alex Timbers (with the major complicity of his songwriting sidekick from Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Michael Friedman), quite brilliant is that they have seemingly heard from the play itself the exhortation of the Princess (the superb Patti Murin) quoted above: they have given us a play (now a musical) that remains faithful to the intentions of the original, but have fast-forwarded the sensibility -- in a most organic way -- some 400 or so years.

First things first: this is not the Love's Labour's Lost of your grandmother, much less your sixteen times great-grandmother. Purists would no doubt find it more palatable had the creative team changed its title along the lines of such musical adaptations as The Boys from Syracuse or West Side Story. They did not, but audiences should nonetheless arrive expecting not a faithful presentation of what Shakespeare wrote (although significant chunks of it have been "sampled" into this script), but rather a broad adaptation of the play that honors, first and foremost, its spirit. In the play's opening moments, the King (the equally superb Daniel Breaker) takes aim directly at the purists, making clear what will soon become obvious -- that Timbers, Friedman et al know exactly what they are doing.

This production is hugely entertaining, sometimes impossibly funny and with only a few bumps along the way that keep it from being endlessly engaging. It's a fun night in the park, a very fun night I would say. Shakespeare wrote the play with quite a lot of fairly heavy poetry, lubricated by a number of comic interludes (as was his practice) to provide relief. Here, the condition is largely inverted: most of the show's few stumbles are in incorporating those pre-existing comic elements.

The cast is quite impressive, and almost all of the actors are given a moment to shine. Led (both literally and figuratively) by Breaker, the king's courtiers, Berowne (Colin Donnell), Longaville (Bryce Pinkham) and Dumaine (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), who, with him form one side of the play's central balance, are uniformly excellent. Donnell has the most to do, and does it with polish. Patti Murin (best known from her turn as Lysistrata Jones) similarly leads her court, which includes Rosaline (Maria Thayer), Maria (Kimiko Glenn), Katherine (Audrey Lynn Weston) and Boyet (Andrew Durand). In this piece, the balance, at least in terms of exposure, falls heavily on the side of the boys.

Laced into the "romantic" plot at court is the story of the travails of the fantastico, Armado (Caesar Samayoa), and his pursuit of the enthralling Jaquenetta (Rebecca Naomi Jones), here rendered (and regrettably under-utilized) as a bar maid. Armado is attended by his Sancho Panza surrogate, Moth (Justin Levine, who sneaks away from his primary duties as the show's music director for this purpose, and to fine effect). This subplot has been reworked with some very clever and funny ideas, as well as with a healthy dose of meta-theatrics, but its design is better than its execution. The show's other comedic characters fall flatter than they should. The cast's closest claim to a non-stage, celebrity, Rachel Dratch, late of SNL, has a thankless task here as Holofernes, the academic, who together with her colleague, Nathaniel (Jeff Hiller), seem to be clogging more than lubricating the play. (Should the show have a future life, and I hope it does, I would hope this element would be a prime candidate for the chopping block.) Dull (Kevin Del Aguila) is most notable for riding a Segway throughout, perhaps the show's dumbest choice, and my other nominee for excision. Finally, there is Costard (Charlie Pollack), who seems perhaps to have wandered into the play by way of the set of Breaking Bad, and who doesn't really make all that much of an impression.

Michael Friedman's songs for the show borrow heavily from pop sources. In one exceptionally hysterical case, "borrow" would be an understatement. Yet they often also rely on the characteristics we'd associate with more traditional musical theater songwriting. The music is not especially ground-breaking, and the lyrics sometimes seem a little too lazy, but the songs are nonetheless overwhelming smart, and really serve as the spine of this production on just about every level. They are very ably supported by a top notch band, led by Levine. One song also figures in a coup de théâtre that, like many other surprises and sight gags in this production, ought not be disclosed in this or any other review.

Like the principal collaboration between Timbers and Friedman, the designers of this show (including especially the costumes of Jennifer Moeller) have produced results that are "of a piece," and similar credit should also be given to the choreographer, Danny Mefford. Together, the creative team, joined by the enthusiastic and able cast and musicians, have certainly met the challenge of bringing this less-often revived play into the park and the 21st Century. Happily, this brings the Delacorte's summer to a successful and winning conclusion.

Love's Labour's Lost
Based on the play by William Shakespeare
Songs by Michael Friedman
Directed and book adapted by Alex Timbers
with Daniel Breaker, Kevin Del Aguila, Colin Donnell, Michael R. Douglass, Rachel Dratch, Andrew Durand, Bradley Gibson, Kimiko Glenn, Jeff Hiller, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Justin Levine, Patti Murin, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Bryce Pinkham, Charlie Pollock, Caesar Samayoa, Maria Thayer, Audrey Lynn Weston
Set Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Choreographer: Danny Mefford
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes with no intermission
Delacorte Theater, Central Park (enter park at 81st St/CPW or 79th St/5th Av)
Public Theater website:
Opening August 12, 2013, closing August 18, 2013
Tues-Sun @8:30 (no performance 8/13; FREE
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 8/9/13 performance


Young Men
Young Men (Reprise)
Hey Boys
Hey Boys (Reprise)
I Love Cats
Brabant Song (Part 1)
Brabant Song (Part 2)
Brabant Song (Part 3)
Change of Heart
Rich People
Love's a Gun
The King's Sonnet
Dumaine's Sonnet
Longaville's Sonnet
Are You a Man
It's Not a Good Idea
I'm the One
Stop Your Heart
I Don't Need Love
The Tuba Song
The Owl and the Cuckoo

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