A character man aptly named “Dull” in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost is chastised for speaking “no word all this while.” He responds, “Nor understood none neither, sir.” Audiences at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production might commiserate. But director Sara Clark assures us that not understanding “every word or all the puns in this play does not exclude (them) from the fun.” This is surely Shakespeare’s most verbose and verbally tricky text, even in the reduced version Clark has staged, absent two very wordy characters. Delivered at high speed, this production is a constant game of catch-up.
Four noblemen swear an oath to forsake women, then break it immediately when the Princess of France (Kelly Mengelkoch) and three lovely ladies-in-waiting show up. What follows is a lot of courtship tomfoolery, game-playing and an unusual ending: The princess’s father dies and she returns to France to mourn, leaving behind the besotted men. It’s not the typical neat ending of other Shakespearean comedies.
CSC’s production is costumed in 18th-century finery and set in a sylvan garden, but Clark gives it a modern frame: A contemporary woman (Mengelkoch) arrives at an ER with her dying father. He gives her a book before he’s wheeled off; as she reads, the play commences. At the final curtain, we return to the ER for a farewell, suitable to the play’s solemn conclusion.
Love's Labour's Lost continues at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through Dec. 31. Go here to read Rick Pender's full review.