Love's Labour's Lost is not one of those plays by Shakespeare that has always been universally acclaimed. In fact, when Lucia Elizabeth Vestris and Charles James Mathews decided to use the play to inaugurate their management of Covent Garden in 1839, it appears to have been the first time the play was performed since 1605!
The heart of the play is usually the "secondary" pair of lovers, Rosaline and Berowne. (Vestris made sure she was playing Rosaline.) That was true also of The Public Theater's musical adaptation of the play currently running at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. Maria Thaler plays Rosaline as the sassy best friend who is always more interesting than the protagonist, and Colin Donnell is appropriately cynical as Berowne, while at the same time remarkably self-aware of the limitations of his own cynicism.
This new version features the songs of Michael Friedman, who also gave us the music and lyrics for such hits as Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson and This Beautiful City. Director Alex Timbers, the man who brought Hell House to New York, provided the adapted book, which is clever, though sometimes scattered.
King Ferdinand of Navarre and the Princess of France (simply billed as "King" and "Princess" is this version) outrank everyone else in the play, though they're not quire as interesting as Berowne and Rosaline. Still, Daniel Breaker of Passing Strange fame was wonderfully engaging as the king, and the former Lysistrata Jones star Patti Murin turned the princess into a memorable party girl with a bit of a mean streak.
The concept for this version, that the whole thing takes place at the five-year reunion of a bunch of college friends, worked surprisingly well. Each of the four couples had a backstory, and their falling in love seemed more like a rekindling of old flames than a whirlwind romance. It turned the play's central motif into that tricky gray area in between being young and carefree and having to grow up, something reinforced by the play's dark ending that (spoiler alert) shows love's labour's lost.
Don Armado often comes close to stealing the show, and this was very much the case with Caesar Samayoa, who makes his entrance in this production while wearing a red speedo. Described in Shakespeare's first folio as "a fantastical Spaniard," Armado in this production flaunted both his latin roots and his sexuality in a way that made him the envy of the play's over-educated males. This was by far the most sympathetic portrayal of Don Armado I've ever seen.
Love's Labour's Lost is only playing until Sunday, so if you haven't seen it, you better get there early to get in line for tickets!