About all this production lacks is a hearty “That’s all folks!” at the finish.
Because otherwise, director Joel Ferrell makes a complete cartoon out of Love’s Labour’s Lost, the comedy that opened Friday as half of the 2015 Trinity Shakespeare Festival at TCU. There is hardly a line in this show that is not visually or aurally embellished in some way.
Love’s is easily one of Shakespeare’s silliest comedies. It is built on an absurd premise (a quartet of lusty young men decide to avoid the company of women for a span of three years for some stupid reason), and the characters are so generally dense that you wonder how they ever find their way to the stage to make their entrances.
The overall story arc does not matter much. This one is all about the characters and the immediate situation.
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So Ferrell takes that and runs with it. Every character and every scene is purposely overplayed for comic effect in this breathless romp, and the actors seem to be having the times of their lives. There is an almost palpable spirit of fun about this production.
Leading this charge is Montgomery Sutton (Lord Berowne), Richard Haratine (the King of Navarre), Timothy Paul Brown (Lord Longaville) and Bradley Gosnell (Lord Dumain).
Standing out in supporting roles are Blake Hackler as the ridiculous Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado, and David Coffee as the pompous academic Holofernes. Between the two of them, they leave enough ham on the stage to open a deli.
And finally, one of the little surprises in this production is the role of Dull, played by Garret Storms, who is making his debut with Trinity Shakes this season. Dull is a nothing role, but Storms manages to draw a laugh with almost every line he delivers. It is big work in a little part.
If you see this show, you may initially think there is not much to Bob Lavallee’s set design. Be patient. The primary set for this show makes a dazzling entrance, and it is a stunner.
On the whole, Ferrell’s hand is too heavy in this production. Not every single line needs a hand wave, an eye roll, or, the ever-popular and horribly overused pelvic thrust to underscore it. Ferrell should step aside and let the audience see and hear Shakespeare on his own. That doesn’t happen in this show.
But this production is such a joy fest that most patrons will probably not see it as I do and, instead, will just wait for Elmer Fudd to . . . I mean, wait for Berowne to win the hand of fair Rosaline (Kelsey Milbourn) and enjoy Ferrell’s boundless ornamentations along the way.
In closing, it should also be noted what a great companion work this makes to the other play in this festival, the mighty and sorrowful King Lear. The two plays complement one another perfectly, in that Lear is as heavy as Love’s is light. Also, seeing both of these productions allows patrons to appreciate the work of two fine directors with totally different approaches. T.J. Walsh’s direction in Lear is beautifully sparse and economical, while Ferrell gleefully throws the kitchen sink at his comedy.
So if you have ever wondered what difference the director makes, these shows offer a great laboratory in which to set up that experiment. Some directors think of Laurence Olivier, while others look to Bugs Bunny. But the wonderful thing is that, with the Bard, both approaches can work.