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Shakespeare Gets Silly

Laughs abound in the artfully enjoyable Love's Labour's Lost.

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Love triangle: Don Armado and Jaquenetta flirt as Costard seethes.
  • Love triangle: Don Armado and Jaquenetta flirt as Costard seethes.

Anyone who has attended the first day of college probably remembers that moment when we pledged ourselves to unstinting diligence in our academic pursuits. We were starry-eyed and imbued with a thirst for knowledge and truth; our intellectual focus shone bright -- right up to the very second the guy down the hall mentioned the kegger in progress down the street.

Apparently, it has been ever thus, since good ol' Shakespeare wrote a play about the same dynamic in Love's Labour's Lost. This oddball romantic comedy (all the lovers don't scurry off and get married at the end) is a feast of wordplay, and the crew at the Great Lakes Theater Festival leaves not one chuckle, chortle, or titter untickled. In some ways it's actually funnier than A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, with which it's sharing this repertory season.

In this thinly plotted lark, the King of Navarre and his three lords have committed themselves to pursuits of the mind and decided to forgo such pleasures of the flesh as drinking, feasting, and so forth. But they've barely broken the spine on their dusty tomes before the sultry Princess of France and her trio of hot ladies-in-waiting hit town. Then it's cue the hormones and duck for cover.

Meanwhile, a crazy Spaniard named Armado is incensed that a local doofus named Costard has been diddling a girl he's been eyeing, the milkmaid Jaquenetta (you know she's a milkmaid because she's lugging a milk-bottle carrier, circa 1955). To get into Armado's good graces, Costard agrees to deliver the Spaniard's love letter to the dairy queen; at the same time, one of the lords tells him to deliver a mash note to one of the princess' ladies. Of course, the notes are switched, and the story is in full gallop.

This production simply oozes wit and charm. The set itself, designed by Russell Metheny, is inspired by the surrealist paintings of René Magritte, featuring recognizable parts of his paintings (a blue sky with clouds, inside an eyeball). And one character even echoes that artist: a raincoat-clad schoolmaster, Holofernes, whose rigid posture recalls the painting in which it's raining a deluge of similarly dressed men.

Director Drew Barr exploits every opportunity for laughs in this wordy but often surprisingly hilarious script. Keeping the lords and ladies amusing, but under control, he lets certain other characters cut loose and fire their comedy cannons in all directions.

As randy Armado, Andrew May is a walking orgasm, squirming at the thought of Jaquenetta, tossing his long silver locks and walking as if he's always stepping gingerly over a mud puddle. He slathers on the quirks with a heavy hand, but they all work beautifully. And when he refers to "the posteriors of this day, which the rude multitude call the afternoon," it's made doubly laughable by May's supercilious mien.

Just as good is Jeffrey C. Hawkins as the dim-witted Costard. Dressed in overalls and looking like Bill Murray in Caddyshack, Hawkins executes some sublime pratfalls and never overplays this peasant's common ways. And Dougfred Miller is a treat as the rigid, pedantic schoolmaster, lecturing on the vagaries of English pronunciation (debt should be sounded as "deb-t," not "det") and always accompanied by one squeaky shoe.

Perhaps the single funniest scene is when the lords decide to come on to the ladies by masquerading as a delegation of Russians. As a greeting, one Russki murmurs they have come for "piss and yentil veezitation" (translated immediately as "peace and gentle visitation"). Clued in ahead of time, the women have also changed their identities and hidden their faces, and the ensuing roundelay of teasing and dancing is a delight. Suffice it to say that if you've never seen four horny Muscovites get funky, it's not to be missed.

Tom Ford and Laura Perrotta hit the right notes as the King and Princess, conveying their positions of authority with the ease born of royalty. And all the lords and ladies keep the fun rolling, smoothly carving out individual personalities. Among these equals, David Anthony Smith is particularly entertaining as Lord Berowne, the first of the men to break down and start chasing skirts.

Costume designer Kim Krumm Sorenson keeps the aura of surrealism going by dressing the men in modern business suits in one scene and 1930s knickers in the next. Subtle touches of sound effects and snippets of music add to the artful ambiance.

Even though it seems apparent that all the lords and ladies will pair off at the end, Will veers off in a different direction, surprising even Berowne, who comments: "Our wooing doth not end like an old play: Jack hath not Jill." But even without the romantic ending, this is quite a Labour of love.

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