By William Shakespeare
Directed by Cecil MacKinnon
At the Mainstage, The Mount
Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA Summer, 1999.

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

Love's Labour's Lost is a favorite of mine. I looked forward to seeing it performed by my favorite Shakespeare & Company, and I wasn't disappointed -- it was funny, and poetic, and the words sang just as they ought. However, Cecil MacKinnon's production wasn't quite as magical or as cohesive as I had hoped. Unlike most S & Co. productions, this Loves Labors wasn’t clearly a level or two above the Edwardian merry-go-round prodution of the same play directed by Spiro Veloudos and designed By Janie Fliegel for Boston’s Publick Theatre in the 1997 season, also outdoors.

Cecil MacKinnon's idea about the play is that it was inspired by the Italian Commedia troupe who toured England some years before the play was first performed.  The director bases this on Shakespeare’s use of type-names to designate characters: Holofernes = the Pedant, for instance. This is a viable idea, although I think the types could as easily have come by way of a schoolboy’s Latin theatricals. However, the Commedia notion-- which is worked out in uncoordinated costumes that do not clearly differentiate between the courtly and the common, some use of masks, simple circus tricks and ropes hanging from the trees on which actors may swing or climb-- doesn’t seem to animate the play in a way that would make it more accessable to a contemporary audience, as the New Globe in London did with its Commedia "Merchant of Venice", that scattered its strolling players about the audience, ad libbing and performing Lattzi before and between the 5 acts. There, the extra layer of overt make-believe seemed to school the audience's expectations for the sort of behavior the (stereo-) types could be expected to exhibit within the play.  But audiences at The Mount have learned to expect that Sha will give them exhuberant physical comedy along with full voiced delivery of the text that scants neither the sense nor the music.  The stronger performers in "Love's Labors" deliver these, abundantly.

King Ferdinand of Navarre (Johnny Lee Davenport) bullies his three friends into swearing that they will study like monks for a term of three years. No sooner have they sworn to avoid the company of women than Navarre and his friends Berowne ( Allyn Burrows) , Longaville (Ted Hewlett) , and Dumaine (Andrew Borth-Leslie) are presented with the ultimate temptation in the form of the princess of France (Tod Randolph) shows up with her ladies Rosaline ( Corinna May) , Maria (Celia Madeoy), and Katharine (Carolyn Roberts Berry) to re-negotiate a treaty.   The king is embarrassed as head of state by his inhospitable vow, and doubly embarrassed as head of his severe academy: he no sooner sets eyes on the princess than he is smitten.  The rest tumble into love too, and spend the rest of the play trying to impress the ladies with their passion while hiding it from each other. Burrows Berowne is the master, here.  He has flowery speeches that go on and on, but in his delivery are so endowed with wit and variety that they seem too short.

Don Adriano de Armado (Dan McCleary), the impoverished Spanish nobleman who aspires to embody in his own person all that is heroic and poetic, finds himself unlucky in love, prostrate at the inelegant feet of a comely country wench, Jaquenetta (Christine Calfas). McCleary is pure delight, preposterous and plausible at once, as he struggles to reconcile himself to his tarnished Ideal. His rival for Jaquenetta is one Costard, a clown.  Costard has no ideals to uphold, but

Dennis Krausnick can do nothing with the French courtier Boyet, though it's not for lack of trying. -- quite an unexpected interpretation of what is usually an ingratiating character, but one that works.  Holofernes, and is so clear in his diction and in all his intentions that even his lines in Latin got laughs. Clifford M. Allen's Sir Nathaniel the curate is also clear and strong. The pair of them created for subplot two a cozy and benevolent little world where pedantry rules but ordinary good nature is prized, also.

Geoff Burns's Dull the constable (outfitted as the familiar London Bobby) is a mere sketch, but a vivid one. Steve Rotolo, a baggy-pants bumpkin as Costard, is a clown of the highest Shakespearean order, never sacrificing sense to shtick, and a pleasure every minute he is on stage.

Most all -- and I mean all, more of the text than I have ever heard before is performed at the Publick -- of this "Love's Labour" is pleasure, and because the sharp shock of its ending is prepared and given enough emotional weight, there is pleasure in the truth of that, too. Still, even though Veloudos' production clocks at three hours, I would beg the director to add a few minutes more and restore the musical reconciliation of Shakespeare's two-song ending. Spring's lyric cuckoo and winter's lowly owl tie all together: whether for "my lady", or for "Joan", love comes when it comes; in due season.