Love's Labors Lost, generally believed to be one of Shakespeare's earliest comedies, is getting a robust, miniaturized revival by Lost Soda Productions at Theatre Marigny. The Bard lays out the premise in the opening scene: The King of Navarre has enlisted some of his nobles in an ascetic program of study. For three years, they will foreswear the company of women. Furthermore, they will fast and sleep no more than three hours a night. Under this monastic regime, says the king, "the mind shall banquet, though the body doth pine."
(Lost Soda reduced the original Elizabethan cast of 17 to 11; to avoid confusion, I'll refer to the actual, smaller cast on stage at the Marigny.)
Under pressure from the King of Navarre (a boisterous Michael Martin), his friends Berowne (Josh Simpson) and Dumaine (Paul Leingang) somewhat reluctantly pledge themselves members of the Draconian academy. The pledge is rash, however, for the Princess of France and some of her attendants are already on their way. The Princess wishes an audience with the Court of Navarre. And so, the best and most unrealistic of male intentions is about to run head on into female dynamite. Cupid will light the match, or matches — for the Princess (Jessica Cook) and her ladies, Rosaline (Rebecca Laborde) and Katherine (Monica Tinoco) will each entice one of the noblemen from their vows.
Ryan Bruce directs the play with a verve that at times tipped into broadness. For instance, when the nobles decide to visit the ladies disguised as Russian ambassadors, they look like bearded refugees from some Ashkenazi ghetto. Much of the humor of Love's Labors Lost arises when the men try to court the women, while at the same time evading the notice of the other men. Then, there are various subplots involving Armado (Cory Dumesnil), a glorious Spaniard, his page Mote (Rebecca Laborde), Costard the clown (Cristina Hatheway) and others. On the night I saw the show, Bruce ably took the part of Dumaine while actor Paul Leingang was ill.
The staging is simple and generally effective, with occasional lapses into farce. But that seems a must for getting laughter from modern audiences faced with Shakespearean comedy. Was it the style in the 16th century as well? Who knows. Love's Labors Lost is an entertaining, bold and unexpected choice for Lost Soda Productions.
Love's Labors Lost
8 p.m. Fri. (ends Aug. 21)
Theatre Marigny, 1030 Marigny Ave., 218-5778; www.marignytheatre.org