In May, Joe’s Pub hosted an even where composer Michael Friedman and adaptor/director Alex Timbers previewed a few songs from Love’s Labour’s Lost and chatted with a lucky audience. That fine evening, Mr. Timbers noted that his first show at the Delacorte Theater would also mark his first foray in directing in thrust. (Incidentally, this writer has still not recovered from the experience of hearing Alex Timbers say the word ‘thrust.’) After having seen the show, I gotta say, for someone who just popped his thrusting cherry, Alex Timbers is pretty much fucking killing it right now.
All sex jokes aside–at least for the time being–from composition to staging, Love’s Labour’s Lost is something of a love letter to Shakespeare in the Park. And what a love letter it is. Not only does their affectionate adaptation of one of The Bard’s lesser-known plays truly embody the spirit of Joe Papp’s brainchild, but this production doesn’t miss an opportunity to pay homage to the quintessential summer-in-NYC event. From cheeky references to the nature of Shakespeare in the Park ticketing to Timbers’ use of every inch of the Delacorte’s enormous, iconic circular stage and the extremely permeable border between actors and audience it creates, to the incorporation of Belvedere Castle in the backdrop, LLL wrings every aspect of the Shakespeare in the Park experience dry. We’ve even heard that the boat at the end of the show is actually in the Turtle Pond!
The best part about Love’s Labour’s Lost, though, isn’t Timbers and Friedman’s touching homage to the free for all that is Shakespeare in the Park. It’s their ability to locate musical theater directly in the center of modern popular culture again. Sure, some of the show’s greatest scenes reference musical (and Public) theater gems like A Chorus Line–Holy Christ, Bryce Pinkham–or reach back twenty years to Dazed and Confused. But Friedman and Timbers have created a language for the show that places it in a direct dialogue with today’s Facebook-overshared, Daily Show inflected culture.
It also hurts exactly no one that LLL comments quite perfectly on the reality of modern dating and relationships–several times I almost stood up and shouted ‘amen!’ at the cast–while remaining true to the spirit of Shakespeare’s original work. Because apparently, my father is right, and dating really hasn’t changed all that much in… well, ever.
You know what else hurts no one? The near universal strength of the LLL cast. Colin Donnell makes Berowne both obnoxious and romantic, as well as disgustingly handsome and well-sung. Both Patti Murin and Ceasar Samayoa–in this show’s equivalent of Christian Borle’s aria of “oh my gods” in Peter and the Starcatcher–take nonsense sounds and turn them into emotive, storytelling devices with precise inflection and perfect body language. In roles of varying sizes, Daniel Breaker, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Bryce Pinkham, Jeff Hiller, Charlie Pollock, Rachel Dratch, Kevin Del Aguilla, Justin Levine, Andrew Durand, Rebecca Naomi Jones Kimiko Glenn and Audrey Lynn Weston–did I not say it was ‘near-universal’?–bring wonderful humor and humanity to their characters.
The only weak spot in the show, for me, was Maria Thayer’s Rosaline. Which is a shame, as one of the interesting aspects of Love’s Labour’s Lost is the way it sets the sidekicks up to be the most compelling characters in the show. Still. While I wish that Thayer’s performance had been a bit more vibrant and crackly–after all, she’s the girl who snags cad Berowne’s heart and changes it–I also think the writing for Rosaline is a bit under baked. Rosaline should leap off the stage and capture the audience’s heart, too, and we need to see more of her spunk and spirit earlier in the show in order for that to happen.
But that small quibble aside–yes, despite the centrality of Rosaline’s role, this is a small quibble–the strength of the piece as a whole overcomes its flaws. Love’s Labour’s Lost is a delightful romp through theater, pop-culture, and The Public’s biggest hits. And besides, who can hate a show that has a boyband scene so smart and flawlessly constructed–A KEYCHANGE JOKE, Y’ALL!–it must have been sent to us directly from heaven. Or Alex Timbers’ perfect brain, which is kind of the same thing.