A Labour of Love in Central Park

           Because of its literary allusions and contemporary (Elizabethan) poetic forms, Love’s Labour’s Lost has never been among Shakespeare’s most popular plays. In the shadow of the more accessible and, well, funnier Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It, to name two, Love’s Labour’s Lost is rarely produced today. But the Public Theater’s rollicking, modern-dress musical adaptation should be seen by everyone who ever squirmed through a straight rendition of the play. Only the purest of purists could quibble with the liberties taken here.

A Princess (Patti Murin) and a King (Daniel Breaker) in Central Park (Photos: Joan Marcus)

The plot is mostly intact. The King of Navarre and three of his followers, here four recent college grads, enter into a compact to devote three years to intense academic study, with minimal diversion, including total abstention from any female company. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work out. (The song lyric “Young men are supposed to have sex” is more amusing than raunchy.) The Princess of France arrives with three comely attendants, here recent co-eds, and it is a four-way love-at-first-sight fest.  

          The 100 intermissionless minutes includes snippets of Shakespeare’s sonnet-rich text, some cleverly scrambled and some as written, most effectively at the end of the play. Among thinly veiled references to All’s Well, Romeo and Juliet and fondly nostalgic nods to Cats and to the Public’s own A Chorus Line, a dozen pop-rock tunes are freshly sung, backed by a nifty six-piece band.  It all adds up to a buoyant romp, ideally suited to the outdoor Delacorte Theater in the heart of Central Park.  

Say goodbye to four guys' vows of celibacy!

          By coincidence, Love’s Labour’s was Shakespeare’s next-written comedy after Two Gentlemen of Verona, which the Public musicalized into a Broadway success in 1972. So what’s next? Shrew’s Kate has already been kissed, but Merry Wives, for one, looms on the horizon. Please, Public powers-that-be, don’t make us wait another 40 years. And meanwhile, if there’s another take on Love’s Labour’s Lost that features a 20-piece high school marching band, point me to it.

 At the Delacorte Theater, Central Park (enter park at 81st St/CPW or 79th St/5th Av)
only through August 18, but already rumored for a Broadway transfer. Performances Tues-Sun @
8:30. FREE

Blog, NY Theater, Off Broadway
  • http://www.honestillusion.com James Curran

    One interesting thing I noted about the costuming, is that it appears the actors are color-coded. Each woman is dressed in the same color throughout the show. Towards the end, when they wear masks, the masks are the color of the woman they are pretending to be.

    The paper the letters are written on are also the same colors.

    And, in the first scene (but ONLY the first scene), the men are also wearing the same colors.

    So, it seems that they are implying that the Man in Blue, will write a Blue letter to the Woman in Blue. But since the men switch to black pants & white shirts for the rest of the show, it’s hard to tell if that motif was carried through.

    • Philip

      Good point about the colors (colours?), James. I also got a kick out of the only partially-masked women slapping their name tags on one another to further confuse the men – it’s an amusing comment on the suspension of disbelief required by Shakespeare’s frequent – and
      hardly there – disguises.