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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

its own.

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

subsiding.

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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