No sex please, we’re bookish

Nicholas Martin tackles Love’s Labour’s Lost
By IRIS FANGER  |  May 3, 2006

Love’s Labour’s Lost

A not so funny thing happened on the way to the Huntington Theatre Company’s planned run of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum : the lead actor accepted a part in a Broadway show. With barely a grimace, Huntington artistic director Nicholas Martin wished him well, dropped the musical from the May slot, and replaced it with William Shakespeare’s seldom-produced early comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost , which opens next Friday. “It came to me in a flash. I wanted something in the same spirit as Forum and with a young cast.”

Martin has directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth for other theaters, but LLL will be his first Shakespeare production at the Huntington and his first staging of the work — though the former actor remembers playing the King of Navarre in a college production at the age of 19 (“most unfortunate,” he murmurs) and a later appearance as Moth at San Diego’s Old Globe. “I chose the play because it’s not so familiar. This play was written by a young man, with a young man’s ardor.”

What’s more, he’s set the production around 1910 because he thinks the pre–World War I period “was the last time we were at any kind of peace. We are determining a very American world, when the music was ragtime. There was a lot of dancing, a kind of youthful energy that the new century brought with it.” Martin has upped the music quotient, adding to the songs in the script a 1910 ditty for actor Will LeBow titled “The Spaniard Who Blighted My Life.” LeBow will play Don Adriano de Armado, a pompous Spanish braggart.

LLL turns on a wisp of a plot about the King of Navarre and a retinue of friends who decide to devote their lives to learning, avoiding any dalliance with wine or (particularly) women. “They’re a bunch of guys who went to college together, including the King, but they’ve been out long enough to have had disastrous affairs. Like guys will sometimes do, they think, ‘We’ll just take a vacation from relationships.’ ” Of course, when the Princess of France arrives with her attractive ladies-in-waiting, the vows go out the window. Especially for the King’s best buddy, courtier Berowne, who wasn’t that keen on the all-study/no-women proposal to start with. “Berowne never shuts up. Unless the actor has real charm and exuberance, he can be tiresome.”

That won’t be the case, Martin believes, with Noah Bean, a 2000 Boston University School of Theatre graduate. The director remembered seeing Bean play George in Our Town his senior year and then saw him again last fall in Los Angeles, where the hunky actor was starring in a production of David Mamet’s Romance . And Bean understands the boys-are-from-Mars, girls-are-from-Venus disconnect between the sexes. “It’s so funny,” he says of the interaction in the play. “We’re hardly ever together with the girls, but when we do talk with them, it ends badly.”

LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST | Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave, Boston | May 12–June 11 | $15-$70 | 617.266.0800 or  

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