by William Shakespeare
Directed by Nicholas Martin
Huntington Theatre Co. at BU Theatre
264 Huntington Ave. Boston/ (617) 266 - 0800
Through June 11

Reviewed by Will Stackman

It's been several years since the Huntington Theatre Company included a Shakespearean production in their season. Indeed "Love's Labour's Lost" was scheduled in midyear to replace a musical whose guest star go a job on Broadway. Director Nicholas Martin has managed to avoid some of the excesses the HTC has fallen into recently and created a show with some charm if insufficient romance. He was fortunate to cast Noah Bean, a 2000 BU grad as Berowne, the most eloquent of the four main male characters. The other three, Kieran Campion as King Ferdinand, James McMenamin as Count Longaville, and Eric Anderson as Lord Dumaine are adequate to their parts but rarely shine. Campion in particular falls short of the nobility which gives substance to the monarch, particularly at the end of the play. It's unclear why this king would choose to dedicate himself to study, then reverse his intentions so capriciously. Setting the play at the beginning of the 20th century gives it a late Victorian air with little possibility for passion.

As the Princess of France, Mia Barron seems a bit distant, and strangely the King's elder. Likewise her ladies seem too old for their prospective partners, with the exception of Zabyna Guevra's Rosaline, a proto-Beatrice to Berowne's proto-Benedick. The female characters are certainly wiser than their male counterparts, but fail to strike sparks for the sake of the romance which this production lacks. Krystal Rowley as Maria and Rachel Rusch as Katharine are interesting at times but not compelling. The emotional core of the production is thus merely pleasant. Their stylized deer hunting sequence is ill-conceived at best.

The play boasts some of the Bard's more unique clowns. Boston Shakespeare veteran and multiple awardee Will LeBow makes the most of Don Armado, the fantastical Spaniard, ably assisted by energetic Jeremy Beck as Moth, who overcomes a Little Lord Fauntleroy costume. The Princess and her train receive a boost from IRNE winner Neil A. Casey as cynical Lord Boyet, her chamberlain. Holofernes, the schoolmaster and Sir Nathaniel, the curate are done to a turn by Robert Jason Jackson seen on Broadway in "Aida" and local luminary Bill Mootos, who does his part with a brogue. The knockabout clowns are led by Tommy Schrider as Costard, the gofer in patched overalls, and Elisa Bocanegra as Jaquenetta, the buxom dairy maid who's been carrying on with both Costard and the Don. They're constantly pursued by rotund Peter Zachari as Dull the constable, dressed as a Bobby. All the worlds of LLL come together when the lower orders present The Nine Worthies, Holofernes' conceit, only to be interrupted by Jaquanetta's announcement that she's pregnant by Don Armando.

The show begins in front of an impressive painted drop of the King's library, intended to set the scene for his schoolboy idea of three years without women spent in study. This set, once again by award-winning designer Alexander Dodge, somewhat overshadows the exposition. However, once the exercise in chiaroscuro' s flown out, the rest of the play takes place in front of stylized wings framing a huge movable tree which provides many comic opportunities. The princess also arrives by boat, one of the more charming effects. Her luggage becomes the furniture for all the outdoor scenes as well. Costumes by Mariann Verheyen effectively define the period, pre-WWI England, but are necessarily subdued, which makes things rather bland. The look of the show has a certain BBC quality, first-rate but safe. The action is accompanied by an original score by Michael Friedman, featuring ragtime plus a musical hall number which opens the second half, sung by Moth and played by Don Armado. The production could use more such zaniness, though a kick line and confetti does enliven the "Owl and the Cuckoo" finale, just a bit too late.

There's no high concept to interfere with the show's poetic intentions, as unfamiliar as they may be in this day and age, but there's also no strong through-line. This is middle-brow Shakespeare, carefully cut and effectively directed. Those coming to this production knowing nothing of the play will not feel left out, though occasional academic laughter came from certain quarters on opening night. For the most part all the verse and rhyme speaking is intelligible, though some lines spoken upstage tended to fade in the high open set. The Princess' penultimate moment was almost lost that way. Audiences will remember Berowne and Armado, who get the last word of the evening. The Don has the Bard's shortest epilogue; "The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. To the audience. You that way: we this way." Berowne, finally silent, is left in the fading light to wonder about his future. The rest of the evening is just Shakespeare.

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