Nov. 19 2008 12:00 AM

MSU Theatre finds ‘Love’ Bright acting, direction make complex show a crowd pleaser

(From left) Joel King, Alex B. West, Stephanie Koenig and Kellyn Uhl in MSU Theatre's "Love's Labour's Lost." (Photo courtesy of Josh Radtke)


In her director’s note for the Michigan State University Theatre Department’s production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” Christina

Traister recognizes the challenges of staging this particular Shakespeare play. “It’s quirky nature, excessive rhyme scheme, and problematic plot points may contribute to its lack of production,” she wrote.

However, those very problems give the play half its charm. In this particular production, the other half comes from the cast. The story is a classic Shakespearean battle-of-the-sexes, rife with lusty, headstrong women taking on over-confident men who hide their insecurities behind facades of elbow-jabbing, eye-winking bravado. The dialogue is rich with rat-a-tat exchanges of flirty double entendres and the plot filled with tiny twists.

Ferdinand, King of Navarre, convinces three of his best buddies to commit to three years of study, fasting and chastity.

That lasts a day, when their grand scheme is thwarted by the arrival of the Princess of France and three of her BFFs. Secret letters, mistaken identities and silly dances ensue.

Traister’s choice to stage the play in a 1940s style allows her to create a “Philadelphia Story” vibe. The women are sassy feminists who secretly enjoy the attention of the men, and the men naively believe they can live without women. While these characters are clichs, for the most part the actors are able to bring something unique to each, making them relevant to contemporary audiences.

Without a doubt, the anchor of the play is Joel King. King’s Berowne is the one friend of the king who fully realizesthat their he-man, no-women’s club pact is unrealistic and bound to fail, yet goes along with it when backing out becomes a matter of honor. King plays the role like Jim Carrey, using his animated eyebrows and rubbery features for maximum effect.

The cast bravely embraces the physical demands of the farce, gamely throwing themselves into well-choreographed scenes involving pseudo-Russian dancing, clandestine eavesdropping and Hercules wrestling a snake.

The play passed a true test on opening night, as it managed to win over an audience of MSU students who were apparently required to attend. The transformation was gradual, from the pre-show cell phone calls informing friends, “I’ve got to watch this play for class,” to the intermission comments of, “I’m starting to understand what they’re saying,” to the stunned silence, as events turn and hearts break at the end. Not such a labour, after all.

Loves Labours Lost

Through Nov. 23
7:30 p.m. Wednesday & Thursday
8 p.m.
2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday
2 p.m. Sunday
Pasant Theatre,
Wharton Center
1 (800) WHARTON