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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's 'Love's Labour's Lost' at the Greek Amphitheater

By Ruth Ross (njartsmaven.com)

Exactly 11 years ago today, I reviewed the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's production of Love's Labour's Lost, performed on their main stage. At that time, I praised their efforts, calling the performance " effervescent" and "polished"—adjectives that would apply equally as well to the current production of this, one of the least performed of the Bard's romantic comedies, now raising mayhem and laughter on the outdoor stage at the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station (Morris Township). 

Director Brian Crowe's decision to bring the action en plein air emphasizes the magical, mystical aspect of this rather goofy love story. Once again, Shakespeare reaches into his bag of theatrical tricks—sparring lovers, bumbling rustics who massacre the English language, misdelivered letters, eaves dropping and great fun at the expense of a pompous pedant—to concoct an absurdly comedic soup, seasoned with a dash of sex and leavened with some nifty verbal calisthenics. 

STNJ_LovesLabours_1631The opening scene, wherein King Ferdinand of Navarre declares that the young men of his court must forswear women and other worldly temptations for the next three years and devote themselves to academic pursuits, sets into motion the sexual politics that eventually make these oaths null and void. Trouble on the romantic front arrives with the appearance of the Princess of France, sent on a diplomatic mission by her father, and her bevy of lovely ladies. When the men visit the ladies in a field outside the court, their foolish “ivory tower” ideals unravel, and the men fall hopelessly in love. And when the ladies find out about the King’s “rules,” they decide to have some fun at the men’s expense. The result: hilarity. [Image: The King of Navarre (Jonathan Raviv, front, center) reads a letter to the men of his court—(L-R) Berowne (Ben Jacoby), Longaville (Aaron McDaniel), and Dumain (Austin Ku) —announcing the arrival of the Princess of France (Jesmille Darbouze, not pictured). Photo © Jerry Dalia, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey]

STNJ_LovesLabours_5028To be sure, the courtiers, led by Jonathan Raviv (right) as the King of Navarre, are a hunky bunch. Raviv's regal air crumbles to mush at the sign of the luscious Princess of France, played by Jesmille Darbouze (left) as a wise young woman, fit to be a diplomatic emissary, yet quick-witted enough to size up a ludicrous situation and take the bull by the horns. It doesn't hurt that Darbouze and Raviv exhibit romantic chemistry from the minute they first lay eyes on each other. Clark Scott Carmichael has a grand time as her attending lord, happy to cause trouble at everyone's expense. 

The other set of lovers, Rosaline and Berowne, are reminiscent of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, what with their verbal jousting and longing looks stolen when the other is not looking. Susan Maris glows whenever she is on stage while Ben Jacoby's expression of doubt prior to signing the King's oath make him deliciously ripe for the takedown. 
STNJ_LovesLabours_2287But what would a Shakespearean comedy be without some rubes, a pompous ass and a couple of other clowns? Love's Labour's Lost doesn't disappoint in this area. Connor Carew is hilarious as Costard, murderer of the English language, master of physical comedy and the quintessential smart-mouthed servant. 

On the aristocratic side, Jeffrey M. Bender (right), who has assumed the role formerly held by James Michael Riley as the comic of the company, is side-splitting as the Spanish grandee Don Armado, replete with Spanish accent, rampant braggadocio, some outrageous business with his foot and a writer of completely incomprehensible verses to the lowly maid (a pert Rebecca Gomberg) who has captured his heart. And Shakespeare has great fun puncturing the pretensions of the bloviating schoolmaster Holofernes, played with great flair and asininity by Bruce Comer (above, right), aided and abetted by his doltish curate Nathaniel, played by Joseph Hamel. Their attempts to honor the heroes of world history in a play of their own devising (shades of A Midsummer Night's Dream) amuses the nobles and gives the audience a reason to laugh heartily. 
STNJ_LovesLabours_2324The setting, a park in the royal environs of the King of Navarre, is a mixture of shades of green fashioned into a harlequin pattern; Charlie Calvert's design emphasizes the bucolic nature of the play. Nikki Delhomme's costumes are a blend of colorful, luxurious fabrics ; a nice sartorial touch is having the lords' shoes match the color of their waistcoats. That the ladies' dresses did too made it easier to discern the couples more easily. [(L-R): Maria (Carrie Walsh), the Princess of France (Jesmille Darbouze), and Katherine (Kristen Kittel) look on as Rosaline (Susan Maris) shows off her gift sent by the men. Photo © Jerry Dalia, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey]

Unlike Shakespeare's other comedies, Love's Labour's Lost doesn't end with a wedding. Instead, the death of the King of France causes his daughter to postpone the multiple nuptials for a mourning period of 12 months and a day. Rosaline's conditions for Berowne are especially delicious: She charges him with working in a hospital for a year to make the sick laugh. Obviously, the path to true love for these young folks will not be smooth. To ensure that theirs is a lasting love—and not an infatuation—is going to take some labor, and that advice is timeless! 

Love's Labour's Lost will be performed at the Greek Amphitheater on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station through July 26th. Performances begin at 8 PM. Bring a picnic and a lawn chair. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.408.5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org online.

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