New York City Theater
"Love’s Labour’s Lost"
O to be young and in love, as just about everyone is in “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” the delectable mishmash of a musical at the Public Theater's free Shakespeare in the Park. Based on one of the Bard’s early plays, jocularity begins as four males lock up essentials from their college days and nights: beer, drugs, music and condoms.
It’s their reunion and they’ve made a pact, agreeing to renounce worldly satisfaction in favor of scholarly pursuits for three years. They may be young and virile but, reluctantly, mature responsibilities beckon. Led by the king (yes, we know, identifications are confounded), they will retire to a rustic cabin to become the students they evidently weren’t.
Of course, this being a romantic comedy, the resolution lasts about as long as it takes four nubile women to enter. Sings one, “I had a fling with the king / It was six years this spring.” Familiar Shakespearean devices emerge: letters go astray, identities are scrambled, city mice are pitted against country ones and wisdom is, at last, imparted in a surprisingly melancholy ending. Through it all, love reigns: foolish, irresistible, comical, romantic for “love is learning our heart and brain are one.”
As funny as all this is – and it is – the evening is like a game of paint-ball. Shoot wildly and you’re bound to hit something. Although Shakespeare’s text is followed between songs, it’s the giddy shenanigans and delightful in-jokes that count most. “That’s kind of racist,” warns one character when compared with an “Ethiope’s ear,” followed by “That kind of stuff goes viral.”
Costumes are willy-nilly. A Spanish-themed number brings on the Xavier Cugat clothes. Hose and doublet, spangles and glitter spill from designer Jennifer Moeller fertile drawing board.
Eventually, pranks become pranks for their own sakes in this nearly two-hour, intermissionless evening. Take-offs on boys’ bands, girls’ groups, on the “Chorus Line” finale, on “Cats,” on Hispanic humor, on eccentric academics and on Elizabethan mores are the kinds of interludes perpetrated by gleeful, naughty boys and girls. But who doesn’t like, or at least envy, gleeful, naughty boys and girls?
Why expect anything less audacious from the team that gave us the wonderful “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson”? Whether a deconstruction of Shakespeare or our seventh president, both benefit from Alex Timbers’ pulsating direction and Michael Friedman’s jaunty score which pauses to make meta-theatrical points about the rich. (“They’re taking things away from you and me / They’re paying for plays that should be free.”)
Performed with youthful energy in a setting with its own sense of humor, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” even has time for a huge marching band. To paraphrase Pogo, “We have seen the future and it is us.” Here, it’s free-wheeling mirth that turns a 500 year old text into an abundance of contemporary pleasures.
--David A, Rosenberg
Aug. 15, 2013