First let me say this: the first act of this performance is on par with some of the most fun I've ever had at a Shakespeare play. There is some real life in these characters, and they display all the simultaneous sincerity and frivolity that we need to ride with them through the twists and turns of their love story. Director Robert Kauzlaric does a great job of playing the supposed dignity of these scholars off of their childish antics, and the fight between Ferdinand (William Irwin), Berowne (David Blixt), Longaville (Joseph Wycoff) and Dumain (Brandon St. Clair Saunders) is silly stage combat at its rock 'em sock 'em best.
The female counterparts to our male lovers (Janet Haley as the Princess of France, Elsa Harchick as Maria, Amy Montgomery as Katherine, and Stacy Stoltz as Rosalind) are uniformly fine – none really stands out, but they serve their dramatic purposes as long as they can (until good ol’ Willy pulls the rug out from under everyone). Their feminine hijinks always seem a little lackluster, but without a three-stooges fight scene of their own, it’s tough to live up to the precedent that has been set.
Alan Ball is an over-the-top cartoon as the lisping, plaid-clad Don Armado, and Kenneth Z. Kendall’s Costard, Rick Eva’s Dull and Lydia Heller’s Jacquenetta all deserve recognition for their respective comic contributions. And Wesley Scott's silent and ever-disapproving butler is an absolute riot!
Unfortunately, this production does not manage to salvage itself from those second act doldrums that dear Willy Shakes has left for us. The confusion is not some of Shakespeare’s clearest (Russians? Really?), the pageant confounds, and the end comes out of nowhere – and not in that awesome “Bruce Willis was dead the whole time!” kind of way. Eventually, this otherwise delightful show sort of peters out into nowhere.
Jeromy Hopgood's gorgeous set places us firmly in one of Shakespeare's green worlds - which tells us right off that love will abound and rules can take a back seat. The side by side images of wild and controlled growth create a perfect setting for the hijinks that ensue. Misti Bradford’s costumes were perfectly fitted to this madcap world, and Diane Fairchild’s lights and Kate Hopgood’s sound design did a fine job of supporting the production’s lightness and sense of fun.
Love’s Labors Lost by William Shakespeare (Director: Robert Kauzlaric) continues at The Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s Baughman Theatre through August 11. Ticket prices range from $14-$105 (that’s quite a range… see their website for details). For more information visit http://www.michiganshakespearefestival.com/.