BWW Reviews: Sights and Sounds Compete with Boomerang Theatre's LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST
There's a lot to love about the summer arts scene, especially the abundance of Shakespeare performances that seem to crop up in theaters and festivals throughout the country. I thought I would round out my summer Shakespeare experience with Boomerang Theatre Company's production of Love's Labour's Lost at New York's Bryant Park and looked forward to what promised to be a delightful evening in the city. I imagined myself relaxing on the lawn, totally engrossed in compelling theater performed under sunset skies, and having a thoroughly wonderful time. Alas, despite wonderful performances by the actors and innovative direction by Cailin Heffernan, I was disappointed.
Love's Labour's Lost is not your usual Shakespeare comedy. It tells the story of King Ferdinand of Navarre and three men in his court who vow to go without the company of women to concentrate on their studies. Of course, each immediately falls in love with a lady from the court of a visiting princess. The beauty of this play lies within the witty play of words within Shakespeare's text, and while it has comedic elements and characters, there is no true happy ending. The would-be lovers separate, with a hopeful 'wait and see if this works out' cliffhanger.
Boomerang Theatre Company's production starts off slowly, with song and performance sketches in the style of a British Music Hall. The original music and lyrics by musical director Henry Aronson are entertaining enough, although they have little to do with the story of the lovers in the play. Because of the music hall framework, the Shakespearean portion of the evening feels like a play within a play, with an additional layer being added when the characters perform their own play within the play by presenting their version of the Nine Worthies. Maybe I've seen too much Shakespeare this summer, because this devise is beginning to feel a little tired.
The play does not start to take off until each man realizes that he is in love and that each of his compatriots is also infected with this deadly condition. But while the men are earnest in their pursuits, the ladies seem merely to mock their attentions, turning the entire love story into an Elizabethan version of foolish games.
This production stars Timothy Babcock, Amanda Berry, Deborah Carlson, Eva Gil, Timothy W. Hull, Jason Loughlin, Hannah Jane McMurray, Jake Minevich, Linda S. Nelson, Sarah Norris, Jared Reinmuth, Dan Renkin, Natalie Roy, Michael Russinik, Christian Ryan and Sara Thigpen. Individually, each does well with their characterizations, although I found the men much more memorable than the ladies.
Standouts in the crowd are Timothy Hull as King Ferdinand of Navarre, the originator of this Shakespearean version of the he-man woman-haters club and Jason Loughlin, who seems to channel a young Kenneth Branagh as Biron, the last to sign the oath and the first to fall. Jared Reinmuth as the bombastic Spaniard, Don Adriano de Armado and Michael Russinik, as Costard, the sage clown of the play, also give outstanding performances, not only because of the roles they play, but because they perform those roles with exaggerated accents.
Boomerang Theatre Company's production, while enjoyable, still did not live up to my expectations for a wonderful evening of Shakespeare. The flaws are not in the production itself but in the venue.
Far from being an "oasis" in the heart of the city as Director Cailin Hefferman described in the press release, Bryant Park is an unfortunate choice for this production. The seating (little green folding chairs) for this 2-hours and 15 minutes show with no intermission is uncomfortable. There is no real set to speak of, and aside from the chairs set up in front of the small stage, little is done to separate the stage area from the rest of the goings on at Bryant Park.
Shakespeare requires a certain amount of concentration on the part of today's audiences for a full understanding of the poetic text, especially for a play like this one, where the laughs all spring from witty wordplay. New York's gaping tourists, foot and road traffic, honking horns, sirens, and other sights and sounds of midtown detract from and compete with the play. The city itself seems to overwhelm the production, which is unfortunate for the talented group of actors who work so hard to bring their characters to life.
Even though I love New York, I was left with a sense that I might actually have enjoyed the show more had I seen it someplace else. I thought about the grounds of Stratford's own Shakespeare Festival Theatre, or anywhere indoor, or any secluded spot. It almost did not matter how witty the script, talented a cast, or ingenious the direction, New York City is what steals the show.
Free performances of Love's Labour's Lost run through August 30th at Bryant Park. Should you go into the city to see this show, I hope you are lucky enough to go on a 'quiet' New York evening. For more information visit Boomerang Theatre Company.
Photo Credit: Isaiah Tanenbaum