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Shakespeare & Originals' current production of Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare's frisky romantic comedy Love's Labors Lost, presented as part of Manbites Dog Theater's Other Voices Series, is long on laughs but short on poetry. Director Jay O'Berski not only sets a brisk pace, but also chops several characters and about an hour from this classic comedy. The result is a sort of Reader's Digest version of Love's Labors Lost, with the physical comedy accented and the wonderful wordplay sadly curtailed.
Subtlety is one of the first victims of such drastic curtailments. Wit is another. Shakespeare played at a sitcom pace has no room for subtlety; and Love's Labors Lost, which is famous for its witty wordplay, suffers when characters are excised and speeches are abbreviated. Indeed, Shakespearean speeches should not be rattled off like a laundry list; they should be savored to the very last double entendre and malapropism.
Alas, Jeffrey Scott Detwiler portrays the flamboyant, windy, and randy Spaniard Don Armado as a puckish clown in a matador's hat. Just to make sure that the contemporary audience "gets it," Detwiler wears a clown's bright red nose and a tool belt well hung with barbecue utensils. Anything to get the cheap laugh.
Lissa Brennan does a much better job in her dual roles as Moth, the loony sidestepping page to Don Armado, and Holofernes, the ultra-twitchy ultra-pedantic schoolmistress. Relying on the actor's craft, Brennan artfully adjusts her gestures, body language, mannerisms, and speech to differentiate between these two very different characters. She creates two three-dimensional characters, and milks belly laughs from the abundant opportunities for comedy inherent in the roles.
By cutting and combining characters and by casting Jordan Smith as an aging (rather than youthful) King of Navarre and Marcia Edmundson as a middle-aged (rather than young) Princess of France, director Jay O'Berski unwittingly changed the chemistry of this comedy of young love and solemn vows taken by callow youth and then impetuously foresworn when Cupid comes to call. The king's attendant lords Berowne and Longaville (Tom Marriott and Rick Lonon) and the princess' ladies in waiting Maria and Rosaline (Deborah Winstead and Judith Redline) are all fine actors but a bit too long in the tooth to play young lovers who make foolish vows of celibacy and then break them all-too-casually at the sight of the first pretty face.
Young love and middle-aged love are quite different, as O'Berski will soon learn, if he hasn't already.
On the plus side of the performance, Derrick Ivey was devilishly droll as the princess' major domo Boyet, and Lance Waycaster was good as Costard the creepy clown. But Sarah Erickson was a dull disappointment as the curvy country wench Jacquenetta.
Set designer Kim DeCoste's scenery and costume designer Lissa Brennan's wacky wardrobe for the cast where other pluses of this uneven production.
Sometime in the future, Shakespeare & Originals must decide whether it wants to continue to go for the cheap laughs with condensed Shakespeare and liberal injections of slapstick to amuse contemporary "groundlings" who cannot follow the wordplay, or go back to the basics and savor the delicious dialogue that the immortal Bard worked so hard to craft.
By speeding up the proceedings and heavily accenting the low-brow humor in Love's Labors Lost, Shakespeare & Originals director Jay O'Berski and company earned a lot of laughs and a healthy round of applause at the end of the Sunday matinee that I attended. But they did not do full justice to Shakespeare's splendid script or truly demonstrate to their audience why Shakespearean comedies such as Love's Labors Lost are true classics.
Shakespeare & Originals presents Love's Labors Lost Wednesday-Saturday, Oct. 23-26, at 8:15 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 27, at 3:15 p.m. at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. Pay what you like ($5 minimum) Wednesday, $10 Thursday, and $15 Friday-Sunday. 919/682-3343. http://www.newfrequency.org/lll.htm.