Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1598 vs. Match.Com, 2015

Culture Watch
tags: theater reviews, Loves Labours Lost

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at

At the start of William Shakespeare’s delightful comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost, the King of Navarre convinces three of his fellow bachelor friends that they need to get out of town, hide out in the forest, study their scholarly works and, most importantly, swear off women for three years.

That’s right. Three Years.

They do it, too!

Well, they try to do it. Right after they arrive at the King’s forest park enclave, four gorgeous single French women, unannounced, arrive. What to do? The men have to talk to the women, but they do so hiding their faces behind their books in a really hilarious scene. Maybe this is a new meet and greet tactic for Match.Com, the online dating service of contemporary America.

The fearsome foursome are dedicated to their vow to avoid women at all cost but can’t get away from the lovelies who have glided into their lives. They decide to lie to each other about the girls but send them love letters. They get an emissary to take the letters to the women and the letters all go to the wrong ones. This sets off a chain reaction in which everybody mistakes everybody for somebody else.

This latest version of Love’s Labour’s Lost, that opened Wednesday at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, in Madison, produced on its outdoor stage at St. Elizabeth’s College, is a wondrous romp through the last decade of the sixteenth century. It is majestically directed by Brian Crowe, who not only keeps the action moving, but comes up with marvelous theatrical inventions to keep the audience roaring. The best is his “Cupid’s Relay.” An actor yells out ‘Cupid’s Relay,” a second actor holds up a big sign that says “Cupid’s Relay’ and then Cupid chases a guy who is chasing a girl around the stage. They do this every ten minutes or so, without warning, and the audience howls in delight.

Director Crow gets superb acting from all in this merry chase through the woods. The four scholars, who swoon for the women faster than they can turn a page in their history books, are well-played by Jonathan Raviv (the King), Ben Jacoby (Berowne), Aaron McDaniel (Longaville) and Austin Ku (Dumaine).

The women are led by the Princess of France, played by Jesmille Darbouze. In her traveling group are Kristen Kittel as Katherine, Susan Maris as Rosaline, and Carrie Walsh as Maria. Rebecca Gomberg is the jaunty country wench Jaquenetta, Connor Carew is wonderful as Costard, a forest rustic and clown

It is one of the Bard’s most popular plays. Recently, it has been set in World War I and staged as a wild musical. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey plays it straight, circa 1598, when it was first performed, and it works, and works very well.

The real professionalism of the play shows in the careful way in which Crowe directs the emotional dueling of the actors as the men and women spar with each other time after time. The men are often oafish, the women shrewish and the wit bounces off the hedges on stage. The eight key players are surrounded by a second troupe of performers, local personalities in Navarre’s forest, who compliment the lovers nicely.

There are no dense Shakespearean conversations in the play, not a single “once more into the breach.” No royal feuds or suicides. All you have is endless mirth and some witty word games. The scene in which the four men play bungling Russians is very funny. Even Vladimir Putin would take time out from scaring everybody to laugh at it.

The play runs just under two hours, but the time flies by. The 500 year old play is as fresh as a daytime TV soap opera and as sophisticated as an Emmy Award winning comedy. It is a play totally invented by Shakespeare. There are no connections to history or literature in it. The fictional country of Navarre and its troubled King just burst out of his imagination and spilled over on to the page of the play. You do miss the history he might have written, as he has written in just about all his other plays, but you too hard to miss it that much.

Will the men and women hook up at the end?

Will the men still have to wait three long years for some romance?

Who will win Cupid’s Relay?

PRODUCTION: The play is produced by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Sets: Charlie Calvert, Costumes: Nikki Delhomme, Lighting: Hamilton E.S. Smith, Sound: William Koch. The play is directed by Brian B. Crowe. The play runs through July 26.

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