Love's Labour's Lost at the Annenberg Center is riotous, fun and overflowing with youthful vigor

October 29, 2009

Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” at the Annenberg Center

Samantha Lazar

October 28, 2009

The Globe Theatre of London, arguably the world’s best Shakespeare company, is at The Annenberg Center for just five days, performing a rowdy, energetic, and altogether excellent performance of "Love's Labour's Lost," one of the bard’s earlier and lesser-known comedies.

The company normally performs in a London venue that is more like a stadium than a theater – it’s a reconstruction of the open-roofed Renaissance theater that Shakespeare’s works were originally performed in. For this rare U.S. tour – the company’s first in four years – they are re-creating the feel of their famous home stage, and the Annenberg’s Zellerbach Theatre fills the role admirably. The lights stay on in the house the whole time (in London, with no roof and no stage lights, works were and are performed by daylight), and the actors utilize the entire theatre, bellowing from balconies, running through rows, simulating sex in the aisles, and even offering food to audience members. They also re-create the Globe’s set to a tee.

The story centers on four noblemen who have sworn off romance to better concentrate on three years of hermetic study. Their plan goes awry, however, when four beautiful (albeit reluctant) ladies show up at the court. As expected, there are mix-ups, mistaken identities, and confusion galore. Aside from the lovesick nobles there are several more bawdy characters that provide tons of hysterical antics and clever dialogue.

The production itself is riotous and fun, marked by the silliness of most Shakespeare comedies, and overflowing with youthful vigor. Of course, it’s also a tour de force of brilliantly witty language. I often find productions of Shakespeare’s comedies to be insipid, playing up the slapstick humor that makes me roll my eyes. But not so here. The physical comedy is all done intelligently, and the Renaissance staging (think gorgeously elaborate costumes, life-size deer puppets, and on-stage musicians) is a treat for the eyes. It is also more filled with song and dance numbers than any Shakespeare I’ve ever seen. The historical instruments (mostly long horns, carved flutes, and strings) are skillfully played throughout and add a lot of fun to the performance.

Check out this production or an authentic taste of Shakespeare at its best and most enjoyable. It’s only here through Sunday, so make sure to catch it before the company disappears across the pond for another four years!