Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the June 23, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’
It has been nine years since the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey
last presented "Love’s Labour’s Lost," and its labours are not lost.
It is a terrific show. For years considered the Bard’s least admired
comedy, this expose of love and courtship has been slowly coming into
Whether by way of director Brian B. Crowe’s respectful and yet
resourceful vision, or through our own re-evaluation of the play’s
artificial comedy and bittersweet conceits, "Love’s Labour’s Lost" is
now in shape to be fully admired. Crowe, who in recent seasons
impressively guided "The Tempest" and "The Comedy of Errors," as well
as the darker world of Lewis Carroll in "Wonderland," has topped
himself in this earnestly romantic, yet riotously funny, staging of a
play that resonates with faux pomp, inane pretensions, and a plot
that, oh well, could be worse.
Recently decreed "a little academe" by King Ferdinand of Navarre, his
court has been turned into a world where three young men and the king
himself commit to total immersion in a three-year program of
concentrated studies, sleeping only three hours a night, fasting, but
most importantly, living without setting their eyes on any women.
Although the court has been created by Ferdinand to inspire the mind,
it unsurprisingly becomes an environment where romance quickly
overshadows academic pursuits and drowns out the vacuous ranting of
the village pedant. The court, its "still and contemplative" red and
cool green marble arches handsomely designed by Brian J. Ruggaber,
soon becomes the playground for a quartet of love-smitten swains, each
of whom is determined to challenge the absurd rules and also win the
love of a lady.
Crowe validates the Bard’s penchant for mixing silliness and substance
with an ease that is a joy to experience. That the play maintains its
balance of lightheartedness and self empowered pretense is a credit to
Crowe’s dexterity. Given the play’s literary affectation, its high
brow iambic pentameter, and its even higher flown buffoonery, Crowe’s
notion to keep us laughing, even as the truths behind the garrulously
poetic discourses become more evident and relevant, is commendable.
The central pleasure of the play generally rests with the actor who
plays Berowne, the noblest of the three noble attendants to the king.
As Berowne, Thomas A. Hammond is a fine specimen of mixed emotions as
he commandeers his questionably studious pals from the more innocent
pursuits of higher learning to the pursuit of ladies. Aggressively
see-sawing between high-strung youthful impetuousness and miraculously
mature wisdom, Hammond keeps the play’s synthetic adrenalin from
More steadfastly manipulated by their own immaturity are Berowne’s
fraternal practitioners, Longaville (Troy Scarborough), Dumaine
(Benjamin Eakeley), and the King of Navarre (David Furr). It is easy
to become smitten by the presence and conduct of the haughty Princess
of France (Caralyn Kozlowski). Ostentation reaches its zenith with the
"fantastical" speechifying Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado (Eric
Hoffman) and Holofernes (Ames Adamson), the foolishly condescending
schoolmaster. Molly McCann is delightfully spunky as the
too-wise-to-be-as-subservient-as-he-is page to the Spaniard. Designer
Kim Gill’s 19th century costumes add much of the fun, particularly the
candy-cane stripped hose for the Spaniard and three-sizes-too-small
pants for Holofernes, which may account for his falsetto speech.
A good test for a play’ success with an audience is to hear applause
following speeches and exits. This happens frequently and deservedly.
Other supporting roles that find favor include David Foubert, as a
clownish simpleton; Mandy Olsen, as a Mrs. Lovett-coiffed dairy maid;
and Virginia Mack, Erin Partin, and Laura A. Simms, as attendants to
the princess, and Greg Jackson, as Lord Boyet, the ladies’ stylish
Oscar Wilde-ish companion.
When the play appears to be uncomfortably shifting its gears, it is
Crowe who allows Shakespeare’s most chaste investigation of love the
wide latitude and patience it deserves, as well as the respect it
rarely ever gets.
– Simon Saltzman
Love’s Labour’s Lost, through June 27, the Shakespeare Theater of New
Jersey, Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison. For tickets call
973-408-5600 or visit www.Shakespearenj.org.
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