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|A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Love's Labor's Lost
Four royals -- a king and three lords -- opt for a three-year plan of learning and contemplation that precludes any contact with women. Enter a beautiful princess and her entourage (that is, trying to enter) and one of the lord's questions "What is the end of study?" is best answered by Ben Franklin's motto "a single man is an incomplete animal. He resembles the odd half of a pair of scissors."
In the program notes for Shakespeare & Company's current Main Stage production, Love's Labor's Lost, director Cecil MacKinnon describes it as "a festival of a play" in which Shakespeare is "at his youngest and most exuberant" in both language and character. With its colorful costumes (by Arthur Oliver) and the enormous cast filling the stage set up as a wharf along a river in Navarre (at one point replete with a mock sailboat and some amusing shadow play), this production does indeed convey a celebratory feeling -- particularly apt at a time when the company is in an understandably celebratory mood about its continued growth and a deal to purchase a new home probably even better suited to its needs than the Wharton estate.
If you want this rather lightweight plot and the often obscure Elizabethan allusions brought more into the Millennium, wait for the upcoming streamlined movie version directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh. It sticks to the English spelling (Love's Labour's Lost) but diddles with the Bard's plot (it's said to have three different endings). If you're willing to overlook the fact that the plot and the often murky Elizabethan word play and allusions don't travel as well "as is" than some of the Bard's more substantive works, you'll find much in this Love's Labor's Lost to offset its at times laborious stretches.
The crown jewels of the production belong to the actors. Johnny Davenport and Todd Randolph are well matched, bringing their usual presence and verbal skills to the roles of the King of Navarre and the Princess of France. It's also a pleasure to see Allyn Burrows and Corinna May reunited as the impish Berowne and the Lady Rosaline.
The real scene stealers of this production are the comic characters, notably Gerry Bamman as Costard the clown and Dan McCleary as Don Adriano de Armado a fantastical Spaniard. Bamman, who some seasons back turned a topical comedy called Nixon's Nixon into an off-Broadway smash hit, is new to Shakespeare & Company and one can only hope that he will return to Lenox often. Dan McCleary's wonderfully mannered Don de Armado brings Nathan Lane to mind (interestingly, Lane will play Costard in the above mentioned Branagh film version of the play!). The unctuous lord attending the princess is played with deliciously oily deference by Dennis Krausnick. Elizabeth Ingram and Peter Wintrock provide further comic panache as a schoolmistress and curate. Also noteworthy is a young non-equity performer, Manu Narayan, whose musical and acrobatic abilities give the eponymous constable Dull several show-stopping scenes.
Ropes -- used to create the web in which that favorite Shakespearean villain, Richard III, is finally caught in the company's just concluded production (our review of Richard III) -- are again prominent in the set design (by Jim Youngerman). In this case they hang from trees midway between the main stage world of Navarre and the women's encampment in the woods. With actors often swinging on these ropes like children in one of the many nearby summer camps, these props again work as a metaphor -- in this case to make a playful connections between the state of mind of the male and female worlds.
This summer's balmy weather adds to the enjoyment of these always unique evenings with the Bard. Unless the temperatures drop drastically during the rest of the run, a light jacket is all you'll need. And if you forget the bug spray, there are members of the company to "spritz" you.