- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Bard goes on a magical mystery tour in the Shakespeare Theatre’s production of “Love’s Labor’s Lost” that brings back the ‘60s in a trippy, fun-loving way.

Director Michael Kahn raids the closets of the hippies, the mods, and the rockers for this transcendental look back at the peace-and-love decade, which is stuffed like an inflatable chair with pop-culture references and slang.

Mr. Kahn sets Shakespeare’s poetry-drunk romantic comedy at an ashram, echoing the one the Beatles and other celebrities flocked to in the ‘60s. Instead of the Maharishi Yogi, the guru in “Love’s Labor’s Lost” is King Ferdinand of Navarre (Amir Arison), a nobleman who has made his court an oasis of contemplation and study. Three members of rock royalty — Berowne (Hank Stratton), Longaville (Erik Steele), and Dumaine (Aubrey Deeker) — retreat to the ashram, vowing to give up women and their band Plexi Glass for three years in favor of more intellectual pursuits.

That oath doesn’t last as long as a Hendrix guitar solo when four sophisticated and witty Frenchwomen arrive in Navarre — the Princess (Claire Lautier) and three of her high-born attendants: Rosaline (Sabrina LeBeauf), Maria (Angela Pierce), and Katherine (Colleen Delany). King Ferdinand finds his attention straying from his third eye when he meets the Princess, while the Fab Three are more than willing to abandon aligning their chakras for some horizontal consciousness-raising with the ladies in waiting.

The women, on the other hand, are amused, but skeptical about the men’s depth of commitment after they have so blithely cast off their vows. They mock and tease the lovesick swains, and even at the finale do not jump into marriage, saying it is “a time too short/to make a world-without-end bargain in.”

In contrast to the men, who sport long, floppy hair and garb of Indian gauze, the women are something out of a David Bailey fashion photo shoot — all glossy high hair, go-go boots and tight minidresses, their hips thrust at an aggressive, “yeah, just try it” angle. They possess the hard, cocksure swagger of model Jean Shrimpton or singer Nancy Sinatra, while the fellas are soft and pretty, almost feminine.

This switching of gender roles, as well as incidents of mistaken identity and mixed-up correspondence, are staples of Shakespeare’s frothiest comedies. Yet “Love’s Labor’s Lost” contains both the folly of youthful ardor and more somber insights into issues of worthiness and keeping one’s word.

After all the Kool-Aid-colored euphoria of the first act, the production becomes something of a downer in the second half, although things liven up when a buffoonish scholar (Ted van Griethuysen, doing a pitch-perfect, Humpty Dumpty impression of the critic Harold Bloom) and curate (the dependably hilarious David Sabin) put on a show for the Princess and her court.

The play seems simply to run out of steam, but it would be well-nigh impossible to maintain the psychedelic glow and helium high of the first half. So, while the good vibrations last, enjoy them. Mr. Kahn and his production team nearly flip their mop tops capturing the brightness and innocence of the era, starting with Ralph Funicello’s India-inspired set, a riot of clashing color, mirrors, gold and glittering paillettes. This splendid excess extends to Catherine Zuber’s costumes, an eye-catching mix of pale robes and flowing pants for the men and op-art patterns and hues for the women. Lighting designer Mark Doubleday floods the stage with electric sunshine, making the set and clothes pop even more.

Composer Adam Wernick penned deliciously shiny, happy tunes for the show that sound like selections from a Time-Life compendium of songs from the ‘60s. Mr. Steele is entirely convincing as a Phil Collins-type singing drummer, as is Mr. Deeker playing a loopy, guitar-slinging flower child. Mr. Stratton, while fetching, exudes a ‘50s-ish Elvis-like brio as the band’s other guitarist, but he handles the play’s elaborate language exceedingly well. The women are rather interchangeable in their tough-chick stance, but Miss Delany stands out as the most questioning and gentle of the foursome.

Michael Milligan is a running joke that never grows tiresome as a perpetually stoned, go-with-the-flow Mr. Natural dude, while Floyd King contributes a dapper, dandified performance as a Noel Coward-esque courtier to the Princess. Geraint Wyn Davies, who previously electrified audiences as Cyrano, gives unexpected warmth and eccentricity to the ridiculous figure of Don Andriano de Armado — he used Salvatore Dali as an inspiration.

Rather than tidily wrapping up everything, “Love’s Labor’s Lost” seems to project into the future, when the pheromones have worn off and the couples must attend to the day-to-day matters of fidelity and mutual coexistence.

In ‘60s parlance, what do you do, man, when the buzz wears off?

***

WHAT: “Love’s Labor’s Lost” by William Shakespeare

WHERE: Shakespeare Theatre Company, 460 Seventh St. NW

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through July 30.

TICKETS: $14.25 to $71.25

PHONE: 202/547-1122

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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