- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2002

''Love's Labour's Lost," playing at the Folger Theatre, labors to be funny. It has wit, and the production is solid, as is the acting. But the script by the greatest English-speaking playwright in history simply is not as funny as "Twelfth Night" or "Much Ado About Nothing."
It is quirky and unpredictable. It throws out mental banana peels, but no one slips on them. It sows the seeds of at least five love stories and then leaves us in lingering limbo, not giving resolution to any of them.
The young, dozen-member cast does a fine job of bringing energy to this laborious script, in which rhymes play a prominent, although slightly annoying, role.
Three young lords, Berowne (Kip Pierson), Longaville (Paul Fidalgo) and Dumaine (Jim Kropa), and their king, Ferdinand (Tyler Woods), agree that in the name of academic excellence, they will swear off women, sleep only three hours a night and eat merely one meal a day (except one day a week, when they will fast).
All four actors are well-suited in their parts portraying the lords with the urgency of young, unconfident love. Mr. Pierson is the most compelling.
After solemnly vowing to devote the next three years to study, each promptly falls in love with a young lady. King Ferdinand falls for the Princess of France (Vanessa Mandeville Morosco), while the lords become infatuated with the princess's ladies, played by Erika Sheffer, Claire Christie and Jessica Drizd.
The young lords and king are overwhelmed by their love, and each secretly sends a letter to his prospective amour. The outcome is not what they expect.
The women ridicule them for their pathetic attempts at writing love letters. Women are smarter than men throughout the play, and the lower classes wittier than their masters.
When the billets-doux become public knowledge, the lords and king first deny their deviation from their vows, then plead for understanding.
Berowne, whose love interest is Rosaline (played with charm and intelligence by Miss Sheffer), eventually defends his action by saying that one cannot be a skilled academic without knowing love.
Also in love is the Spanish lord Don Adriano de Armado (Frank Arrington), who portrays his overly romantic, slow-moving character with a big dose of humor. Don Armado is in love with Jaquenetta, a woman of the lower classes, also played by Miss Sheffer.
Unfortunately, the interaction between the love birds is unremarkable, while the scenes between Don Armado and his page Moth (Joann Sacco) are some of the play's best. Moth makes fun of his master and other members of the upper class, especially their fixation on academic excellence.
They make a big deal out of using big words, Moth says, but often those words are used in improper context or are altogether wrong.
Don Armado accidentally refers to his mustache as his excrement, and a teacher, Holofernes (also played by Mr. Fidalgo), uses the term "posterior" of the day instead of "late" in the day.
To all this, Moth simply states what we're all thinking: "They've been at a feast of languages, and feasted on the scraps."
The costumes, by Kimberly Morris, and music belong to the '50s and '60s; the ladies wear skirt suits with matching shoes, small purses and pillbox hats, while the men wear gray suits.
The music includes Sam Cooke's "What a Wonderful World," performed by the actors, who also break into choreographed dance on several occasions.
All this takes place without a single set change the story plays out against the backdrop of a Bard-era theater replica which makes the production all the more impressive. The cast captures the audience's attention from start to finish without the help of colorful sets or fancy lighting. They do it for 135 minutes with nary a break.
Director Nick Hutchinson should be applauded for dusting off this old tale of class and gender clashes. It may not be that funny, but it teaches lessons in humility and the importance of being genuine instead of trying to impress.
The young men's love's labor may be lost on the women, but not all is lost on Mr. Hutchinson's production, which is both engaging and energetic.

***
WHAT: "Love's Labour's Lost"
WHERE: Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE
WHEN: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. today, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Dec. 1.
TICKETS: $25 to $36
PHONE: 202/544-7077
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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