Poetry in motion

Love’s Labour’s Lost , Island of Slaves
By CARLOYN CLAY  |  May 28, 2006

LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST: The eyes — and ayes — have it.

The eyes have it in Love’s Labour’s Lost, in which ocular imagery duels with what Harold Bloom calls a “florabundance of language” in the arch arias of courtier Berowne, who sees himself writ large in the “pitch-ball” peepers of Rosaline. And with the Huntington Theatre Company production of the early Shakespearean comedy (at Boston University Theatre through June 11), the ayes have it too. Nicholas Martin’s Edwardian-set staging, gorgeously appointed and as well pruned as topiary, is charming. As Berowne, in whom narcissism duels with sparkling logorrhea, Boston University graduate Noah Bean exudes a boyish innocence that ameliorates the character’s exuberant showiness. And the stock comic characters’ displays of intellectual and semantic pretension, which can be tedious, aren’t. In fact, Will LeBow’s ivory-tickling rendition, in the guise of twirly-mustachio’d Don Adriano, of a ditty called “The Spaniard Who Blighted My Life” is an interloping highlight — particularly the flourish in which the singer, decrying the man who stole his wife, promises to plant “my bunion in his Spanish onion.”

As you may have gleaned, Martin puts a gloss on Shakespeare in more ways than one, though neither the production’s updating nor its additions to the Shakespeare songbook get in the way of the play. Through the centuries, Love’s Labour’s Lost, which was written around 1594, has been both underrated and overrated: William Hazlitt opined that “if we were to part with any of the author’s comedies, it should be this,” whereas Bloom testifies to taking “more unmixed pleasure from Love’s Labour’s Lost than from any other Shakespearean play.” Bloom also harrumphs that he’s never seen a production that lived up to the work’s “vocal magnificence,” and who knows what he’d say to this one? But those with less lofty demands will find enough froth here to top a cappuccino (a word some of the characters would doubtless confuse with “Arlecchino” — or maybe “maraschino”).

LLL is set in groves of academe: the castle park of the King of Navarre, who along with three friends has resolved to devote three years to study and a near-monastic life in which women are to play no part. When the Princess of France (the savvy, elegant Mia Barron) shows up with a retinue of ladies, the King receives them of necessity but, having declared his palace off limits, puts them up in tents in the park. He and his posse then proceed to fall, with convenient precision and hierarchical neatness, in love with the four visitors (who in the whimsically opulent Huntington staging arrive in a little yacht afloat in a muted Monet sea, from which a dinghy is disgorged like a babe from the womb to float in from the wings at larger scale). It falls to the verbally agile Berowne to devise the logical back flips in verse that might release the scholars from their vows — and to disdaining Rosaline, given an exotic snap by Zabryna Guevara, to release him from pride in his every witty phoneme.

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