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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Love's Labour's Lost
Leave it to a proven company to make something very difficult look very easy.
In botched hands, Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost can be a labor indeed. There are a few too many characters and subplots, an unsatisfying ending, careening shifts between heavy romanticism and outright farce, no single dominant hero or heroine and a rather dopey play-within-a-play that makes Pyramus and Thisbe of A Midsummer Night's Dream look like a masterpiece.
To all this Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, clearly said, "Right. Well and good. I'm taking my production across the pond &mdash and on the road &mdash anyway." A mighty good thing it is that he did. Dromgoole's production &mdash a restaging of the production that played the London venue in 2007 &mdash is equal parts elegance, visual and musical delight, and a flat out kick in the breeches. The brain trust that runs Santa Monica College's Broad Stage, in this its second season of programming was smart to nab it.
The Globe has come to Southern California twice before, under the direction of (and, in both cases starring) former artistic director Mark Rylance. And while the previous visits of Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure were every bit as lovely and skilled (with Rylance making a fine Olivia and Egeon respectively), Dromgoole's Labour's offers something rather wonderful that both those earlier productions lacked. Ladies!
Not to be simplistic about this, and realizing the company's mission to preserve Renaissance authenticity (meaning men played female parts), but it is more than pleasant to watch talented and attractive actresses filling out Jonathan Fensom's rich period perfect gowns and fending off &mdash or encouraging &mdash the advances of the Narvarre-ian scholars. In addition to getting it on liberally with the lusty servant Costard (played by Fergal McElherron), sexy dairymaid Jacquenetta is given a letter to deliver. The letter is placed, yup, right between her cleavage, a sight gag that just plain works better when you've got an actress like Rhiannon Oliver on the receiving end.
The ladies are particularly well cast in this production, from Seroca Davis's diminutive but dangerous Moth to the royal ladies Katherine (Sian Robins-Grace), Maria (Jade Anouka) and Rosaline (Thomasin Rand). The company's real lightning bolt, however, is Michelle Terry playing a Princess of France who eschews regality and gives as good as she gets. When the games of love begin between Navarre and his courtiers and the visitors from France, it is Terry's Princess who drives the counteroffensive with such gusto. Properness? This Princess is practically at ground zero in a late play food fight right about the time a messenger arrives to deliver some bad news.
But that's late in the evening. Navarre (Phillip Cumbus) and his lords — Longaville (Will Mannering), Dumaine (Jack Farthing) and Berowne (Trystan Gravelle)— have an easy fraternity-like rapport wherein group hugs, piggy back rides are not out of place. When Navarre and the lords, who have sworn off women for three years, fall systematically in love with the French visitors, you can bet that Gravelle's merry Berowne will tweak them mercilessly, descending from a tree (and spitting out a mouthful of leaves first).
The low comic characters go at it with equal gusto. McElherron's Costard is positively Chico Marx-ian in his efforts to save his own skin (and my, do he and Oliver's Jacquenetta find some inventive ways to get frisky). Paul Ready takes any swagger out of the braggadocio Spaniard Don Armado, making the character a zonked out dimbulb instead.
Andrew Vincent garners a few good laughs as Costable Dull and plays Dull indeed with schoolmaster Holfernes (Christopher Godwin) and curate Sir Nathaniel (Patrick Godfrey). The trio bring the intermission to an end with, literally, a burst of flatulence. These baser gags are no more out of place in Dromgoole's canvas than a food fight or the courtship of two deer puppets. Beauty and refined courtship has its place here in the mixed up Kingdom of Navarre (and, indeed, the musical quartet led by Nicholas Perry adds greatly to the overall atmosphere). So do fart jokes and shaggy wigs when the courtiers disguise themselves as Russians.
Although the production was originally designed for the Globe's outdoor stage, it fits neatly in the intimate Broad Stage. House lights are left on for the duration and players mingle with audiences both before and during. The experience makes one want to venture to London to see how the magic is done on site at the Globe's home base. But for this week at least, we can be glad that the Globe has come to us.