“By/ heaven, I do love: and it hath taught me to rhyme/ and to be melancholy; and here is part of my rhyme,/ and here my melancholy.”—William Shakespeare, LOVE LABOUR’S LOST
LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST is not Shakespeare’s greatest play, but it’s certainly one of his most fun. In a feast of language, Shakespeare revels in the hypocrisy and false-romanticism that male-female relations engender in conquest and in futility. Under Aaron Cromie’s creative direction, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s production (now onstage at the Drexel URBN Annex) captures the playfulness of the Bard’s early comedy in a fluid romp.
Cromie coaxes several precociously mature performances from his cast of early career actors in Philly Shakes’ summer academy. Crucially, Joshua Kachnycz is confident and charismatic as Berowne, a quick-witted nobleman in the vein of Much Ado‘s Benedict or the Henriad’s Falstaff.
A student in the court of Ferdinand of Navarre (Terrell Green), Berowne reluctantly agrees to join the court in its misguided committment to forgo the company of women for three years. The court’s resolve is quickly tested by the visit of a French princess (Katherine Roberts, another stand-out) and her attendants. The king falls for the princess, Berowne attempts to woo Lady Rosaline (Madalyn Czerniak), and his two companions seek to pair off with two young ladies. Berowne’s self-indulgent contemplations on love form a poetic backbone to the play; Kachnycz’s intelligent, accessible delivery will thrill lovers of Shakespeare’s language (And that is what makes Shakespeare great, Ira).
In previous attempts at Shakespeare, Cromie let his populist inventiveness mask the Bard’s bloody provocativeness (Titus Andronicus, 2011) and poetic beauty (Two Noble Kinsmen in 2013). But his choices in LOVE’S LABOUR’S contribute to a thoroughly successful comedy: lively soundtrack (mostly Stevie Wonder), fun scene changes, adaptable paper-strewn set, and creative choreography borne of work as a stellar puppeteer.
Cromie’s skilled direction is most evident in the play’s subplot, which sees Nicholas Sheppard as “fanastical Spaniard” Don Adriano de Armado (the defeat of the Spanish Armada by England happened just a decade before the play’s completion) fall for “country wench” Jaquenetta (Stephanie N. Walters). Sheppard’s farcical accent and cartoonish movement of his long limbs epitomize the joyful life of the production. Eren Taylor Brock is similarly delightful as blowhard academeic Holofornes, as is Lizzie Spellman as Costard, a classic Shakespearean clown.
In editing the prevarications of Shakespeare’s ending to create a neat denouement, Cromie shows a lingering willingness to sacrifice the playwright’s subtleties for the sake of entertainment. But then, his LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST is thoroughly entertaining. [The URBN Annex at Drexel University, 3401 Filbert Street] July 30-August 17, 2014, phillyshakespeare.org.