Love's labors were not lost, but found, in a sprightly romp, that was a delight from start to finish, despite lasting most of three hours, and exemplified Reduxion Theatre's pared-down, user-friendly approach to the classics.
“Love's Labour's Lost,” a play which director Erin Woods described in program notes as “secretly William Shakespeare's best comedy,” has been updated to 1953 Spain. The production needed only a minimal set, charming costumes and naively appealing song-and-dance numbers, which seemed integral rather than extraneous to the comic-poetic riches of the Bard's early play.
Sam Bearer brought the right manly presence, more affable than overbearing, to the King of Navarre, who gets his three lords to sign a misguided, sure-to-backfire oath to pursue scholarship, not women, for three years.
Equally appealing were Ian Clinton as Longaville, Jeff Burleson as Dumaine and Mitchell Reid as Berowne, the signers of this impossible-to-fulfill oath, with only the latter opting out of some of its requirements.
Providing the king with more than enough temptation to break his vow by herself was Claire Powers, as an imposing and statuesque visiting French princess, forced to set up camp in a field near his castle because of the oath.
Upstaging her in some ways, however, were the antics of her three female attendants, under the direction of the duck-headed cane of the elegant, aqua-clad Boyet, played with just the right flourish by Charlie Monnot.
Holly McNatt was saucy and seductive as Rosaline, who eventually turns the hard-to-turn head of Berowne, and disappears, amazingly, under the dark robes of her second part as a comically bookish male curate.
Susan Riley was wonderfully curvaceous and coquettish in both her roles as Maria, another attendant to the princess, and as a model named Jaquenetta, who conquers men's hearts with the ease of a flamenco dancer.
Rivaling the allure of these two attendants was that of Catherine Pitt, who wins the attention of Dumaine, playing a mini-guitar instead of wielding an umbrella, and wearing a green dress that goes with her red hair.
In addition to Dumaine, Burleson filled another crucial, catalytic role as Costard, the photographer whose public dalliance with Jaquenetta leads to comic consequences and helps set the wacky plot in motion.
But if these main and multiple roles were handled with great aplomb, it was the broadly comic performances of Timothy Berg as the military hero Armado, and Jessa Schinske as his page, Moth, that nearly stole the show.
Thrusting with a stick “sword” and wearing an outlandish feathered hat, Berg brought a swashbuckling, Three Musketeers-like panache to Armado. Clad like a sexy Girl Scout, Schinske charmed us even more with her offbeat, acting-singing vocal delivery and claps or rhythmic body language that almost seemed to create songs that others picked up on, out of whole cloth.
Classic yet modern, and capturing Shakespeare's magic brilliantly, the production with costumes by Hanna Matter, lighting by Ciera Terry and choreography by Riley, is highly recommended and shouldn't be missed.
— John Brandenburg