The Philadelphia Inquirer reviews Love's Labour's Lost at the Annenberg Center

October 30, 2009

A 'Love's Labour's Lost' with too much missing

Howard Shapiro

Inquirer Theater Critic

Fri, Oct. 30, 2009

The four young men who inhabit Shakespeare's comedy Love's Labour's Lost try hard to be serious. Too hard.

They forswear entertainment and the pursuit of women. When they turn their plan around to include four particular women as a part of their education, they continue trying too hard. The women are on to them. Mockery ensues.

In the Globe Theatre of London's touring production of Love's Labour's Lost, at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center through Saturday, not only do the characters try too hard, so does the production, a revival of the Globe's 2007 version in London.

The first half, which races through four of the Bard's five acts in 90 minutes, seems forced and, as a result, flat. The four men, who include the young king of Navarre, begin in the park in front of the palace - a pleasant space high above the stage filled with Jonathan Fensome's fantastical trees on flat surfaces. Those scrims become an unfortunate metaphor.

You get the feeling that the guys, in their respectful but rapid delivery, are skimming the play's surface for its standout moments - the puns, the huge number of rhymes, the bits of folderol that Love's Labour's Lost invites. The four women, who include the visiting princess of France, fare little better.

When things begin to unfold in the second part, the Globe's artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, makes the best of the plot and the language; the staging, aided by five musicians playing instruments of the era, begins to pump. One bit, in which the ensemble becomes a giant armament, is exceptional.

Until then, no one but the kinetic Fergal McElherron, playing the clown role, looks to be having much fun. Lost in the mix is more than love's labor - it's much of the dialogue.

The actors at the Globe, the rebuilt open-roof theater that adheres to Elizabethan standards, play in all conditions. Sun bears down. Rain drenches. The audience crowds the stage front. But the cast may have met its match in Annenberg Center's sound-chomping Zellerbach Theatre.

There, the rear half of the audience loses much of the dialogue - rapid-fire when it's not almost singsong to the rhymes. This was especially annoying when a speaking character turned to the opposite side of the stage or the action took place upstage.

The production itself doesn't stress some of the play's best language. "A lover's eyes will gaze an eagle blind," says one of the men in a beautiful riff that ends the first half and is a major plot hinge. "A lover's ear will hear the lowest sound." The words flew by. They should, rightly, have landed inside us.