Up-and-coming Coeurage Theatre Company makes a practice of including a Shakespeare play on its eclectic schedule each season. Following past productions of Romeo and Juliet and Double Falsehood comes their stab at Shakespeare’s comedy of words, Love’s Labour’s Lost. It’s a clever play, devoid of the kind of battles and wars so often found in many of Shakespeare’s other works. Instead it uses words as its weapon of choice. It can also be a challenge for an audience because the characters’ language contains many complicated figures of speech and plays on words meant to confuse, persuade, and challenge those around them. Shakespeare takes great pleasure in showing how silly those inflated with their own self-importance can be.
The absurdity of the linguistic excess can be quite amusing in skillful hands as the battle of wits sizzles and the verbal fireworks fly. But this is the Frat party version of LLL where the boys are full of pranks and the girls stand around looking pretty. The actors may be having a good time but there are a lot of vacant smiles and more than a little missing subtext that keeps the play from surging to life.
Lack of chemistry between the couples is partly the issue but puzzling too is the curious combination of theatrical elements. Director Ted Barton’s concept mixes modern technology like cell phones and iPads with 1920’s music, three stooges comedy bits, garden party sundresses and 3-piece suits. Costard (Chris O’Brien) is a slacker dude wearing headphones and beach attire, and Dull (Brian Abraham) looks like he stepped out of a 1940’s Abbott and Costello movie in his pith helmet and safari shorts. I’m sure there’s a specific vision for the play but I couldn’t figure out what it was.
And so I go with the Frat party interpretation because that would at least explain the Saturday Night Live ‘wild and crazy guys’ staging when the boys come disguised as Muscovites to test the faithfulness of their new loves. Toy store fake beards and Steve Martin shimmying aside, the joke is just an opportunity to act silly.
On the plus side, Patrick Wenk-Wolff drones on with such ridiculous verbosity as the schoolmaster Holofernes that it drives home the fact that no one is supposed to know what he’s saying. It’s only funny because he actually does know what he’s saying. Jonas Barranca also gives an inspired performance as the hilariously effeminate Don Amado. This Spanish Errol Flynn’s lisp is as thick as taffy but Barranca’s careful enunciation and grounded performance works, at least up until the point when the final play within a play breaks down into a shouting brawl for everyone onstage.
Then an abrupt shift in tone ends the boys’ frivolity for good and the real world sets in. Sounds a little bit like finishing your freshman year of partying and deciding to buckle down and study as a sophomore. Time for everyone to grow up. On second thought…I’ll take another red cup of beer, please.
Shakespeare in LA
LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST
Oct 11 – Nov 10, 2013
Coeurage Theatre Company
The 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, 90038
Tickets: (323) 944-2165 or https://coeurage.secure.force.com/ticket