Review: Love's Labor's Lost

The Public Theater presents this lesser-revived romantic comedy by Shakespeare.

Photograph: Richard Termine

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

There's love aplenty in Karin Coonrod's production of Shakespeare's oddball unromantic comedy Love's Labor's Lost: You can sense the director's long engagement with the text; the cast occasionally gives itself up wholeheartedly to frolic and nonsense. But despite (or perhaps because of) that love, there's also too much labor. Shakespeare's rarely performed work tips heavily toward Elizabethan clowning, and the stress of conveying out-of-joint humor sends little cracks through the show. A too-loud punch line makes us wince, a very not-up-to-date New Kids on the Block reference gets a wince and a cringe. Luckily, the question of what makes funny things funny actually sits at the heart of Love's Labor's Lost. A "jest's prosperity lies in the ear of him that hears it," chides Rosaline (a nicely tart Rebecca Brooksher), as the jokes around her turn mean, self-serving and dull. Of course, our own ears are judging too.

The setup, of course, is a classic. A king (Hoon Lee) decides to forcibly retire his court into a period of celibate contemplation, but the moment he persuades his most reluctant courtier, Berowne (a wonderful Nick Westrate), to sign the pledge, a flock of French ladies alight in a nearby field. Lofty sentiment turns into an immediate scramble for romantic advantage—love letters zip back and forth as a gaggle of common fools and a constable (the always deft Robert Stanton) look on bemused. The boys hurl themselves at wooing in the same way puppies approach a steak, with Westrate and Lee going to screwball extremes to simultaneously save face and lose their hearts. A similarly headlong style serves Reg E. Cathey, who plays the foolish Don Amato like he's replaced one hip with an eel. He slithers around the stage; even his language wriggles.

Elsewhere, though, things are unamusing. Renee Elise Goldsberry, so excellent in contemporary work, can't elevate her French princess beyond being a very alert paper doll, and Samira Wiley's idiot page boy and Mousa Kraish's idiot clown will make you do your reverse Cheshire Cat impression. The smile goes first.

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Public Theater. By William Shakespeare. Dir. Karin Coonrod. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 10mins. No intermission. See complete event information.