“Love’s Labour’s Lost” is one of Shakespeare’s strangest, yet most rewarding comedies. Featuring a group of young aristocratic men who swear off women to pursue scholarship for three years, the play initially seems to be making a typical movement from wooing obstacles to erotic coupling. Even as the audience giggles at the antics of rustic clowns and overexcited suitors, it seems inevitable that the Jacks in the King of Navarre’s court will pair up with the Jills accompanying the Princess of France.
However, the play takes a dark turn: after the Princess learns that her father has died, those who were laughing are suddenly solemn. Soon, the Princess merely offers Navarre the chance that he might earn her love in a year’s time, while the other French ladies also defer the possibility of giving up their love.
Directed ably by Steve Vaughan, this production successfully stages both the comedic thrills and dark undercurrents of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Set in a multilevel villa, the players don wonderful modern, but vintage costumes designed by Jenna Damberger. With fantastic music and a vibrant cast whose chemistry makes the play engaging and easy to follow, this production is perfect for the Shakespeare in Delaware Park series.
This staging is especially strong when it comes to clowns and buffoons. Tom Loughlin and Charles Wahl are superb as, respectively, the ridiculously passionate and self-important Don Adriano de Armado and his wisecracking servant, Moth. With his cartoonish military uniform and outrageous Spanish accent, Loughlin steals many scenes, usually through his rapid-fire exchanges with the wonderfully witty Wahl.
Another pair of excellent roles reveal an underclass thriving alongside the aristocracy. Peter Horn, who often carries a rake or shovel to indicate his lower class, is consistently hilarious while playing one of Shakespeare’s more ironically witty clowns. Horn’s deadpan delivery is outstanding. Melissa Leventhal is fantastic as the peasant Jaquenetta: her earthy energy contrasts vividly with the more uptight behavior of the rich French women.
The play’s peasants are not the only ones at odds with the aristocrats. While Larry Smith is effective in presenting the scholar Holofernes as an absurd pedant, he also subtly conveys a sense of injustice when he finds himself the target of the aristocrats’ gratuitous mockery. Smith’s pain helps us register the potential cruelty that comes from having so many powerful, but idle nobles in your community.
Other standout roles include Rebecca Elkin as the supremely confident Princess; Marissa Biondolillo as the graceful and witty Rosaline; and Nathaniel W.C. Higgins as the chic and merry Boyet, whose joyous interactions with the French ladies are infectious.
If this production has a star, it is Darryl Semira, whose riveting performance as Berowne anchors the play. Convincingly conveying both his cynicism about scholars repressing their lust and his own falling in love, Semira compellingly mixes comedic skill with romantic yearning.
It is especially memorable for its music. With music composed by Randy Andropolis and coordinated by Jay Wallin, the play features a trio of musicians who play elegant interludes from the villa’s balcony. Horn also is a gifted violinist, playing both silly and poignant melodies, while Wahl and Nick Lama both sing excellently.
One of the production's highlights is the scintillating dance number involving the aristocrats posing as visiting Muscovites. While speaking in humorous Slavic accents and performing nifty Russian dance moves, Semira, David Wysocki, Ben Caldwell and Lucas Lloyd perform a frenetic court dance for the ages.
“Love’s Labour’s Lost”
3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Through Aug. 18, presented by Shakespeare in Delaware Park. Performances are 7:15 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday at Shakespeare Hill in Delaware Park. Admission is free. Info: 856-4533, shakespeareindelawarepark.org.