A 'Labour of Love'

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This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

Shakespeare's comedy Love's Labour's Lost is not one of his sturdiest creations. While the major plays like Hamlet, Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night's Dream can rise above lackluster stagings or uninspired acting, Love's Labour's Lost is a delicate soufflé — only when presented with absolute grace and skill, can it avoid collapsing under the weight of its own deliciousness.

Recently, Los Angeles theatergoers were fortunate to see a production of Love's Labour's Lost that provided a taste of the play's delectability, a 2006 staging by Simon Abkarian at The Actors' Gang. Abkarian's production was a joy to look at and listen to, but the acting was not quite up to the task of Shakespeare's most difficult language. Love's Labour's Lost is stuffed with allusions, puns and other Elizabethan inside jokes, and rare is a cast assembled that can conquer what Harold Bloom calls the play's “linguistic exuberance” and “vocal magnificence.”

Tonight, at the Broad Theatre in Santa Monica, Shakespeare's Globe Theater from London begins a 12-performance run of Love Labour's Lost. I saw the show a few weeks back at one of its first stops on this US tour — and while it may not be perfect, the ensemble acting is first-rate. It's about as fine a Love's Labour's Lost as you can expect to see anytime soon.

Shakespeare aficionados no doubt remember the Globe from their visits to UCLA a few years back with former Artistic Director and actor Mark Rylance. Those visits brought Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure, both performed in “Original Practices” productions with period instruments and without women actors. This year's Love's Labour's Lost is the first production seen here in the U.S. directed by the Globe's new Artistic Director, Dominic Dromgoole.

Dromgoole employs Elizabethan costumes and jigs (like in the Rylance era) but also he adds a modern-sense of theatricality. He stages things in the aisles, has performers interacting with the crowd, he even throws in a food fight. The result is a total experience that may lack the novelty of the Globe's period Twelfth Night, but one that boasts a rollicking, vaudeville immediacy.

Dromgoole's direction doesn't reinvent Love's Labour's Lost, he focuses on making the shaggy plot understandable and keeping the language clear. And he's chosen a capable cast. The key role is that of Berowne and he's played with handsome charm, good humor and a Welsh accent by Trystan Gravelle. Anchoring the proceedings is Michelle Terry, who was seen last month in the National Theatre's Hi-Definition broadcast of All's Well That Ends Well. Terry has a rich voice and she brings a sense of both playfulness and responsibility to the part of the Princess of France.

Rhiannon Oliver and Fergal McElherron are great fun as the lusty Jacquenetta and Costard but then most of the actors in this production are strong. None steal the show—and indeed there are no scenes that will take your breath away (as was the case often with Rylance) but all of their work adds up to something substantial. Their effort is all the more impressive given that they use no amplification, microphones, lighting or even sound effects. This is Shakespeare that is well prepared and simply staged. The joys of Dromgoole's Love's Labour's Lost may not hit you right away, but the next time you see Shakespeare performed, you'll likely think back to how effortless the Globe made it all seem.

The Globe Theatre's production of Love's Labour's Lost runs through November 29 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.

This James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.