Shakespeare had a grand time tweaking contemporary noses in "Love's Labour's Lost." Although the proboscises departed this earth some 400 years ago, the comedy still works like a charm because every age has its bombastic orators and hifalutin' ideals.
In no other Shakespeare play is language so central to the plot --- verbal flourishes being de rigeur among the elite. The action is set into motion when the King and three noblemen swear to set aside their affections and turn their minds exclusively to study for a period of three years. They will fast one day a week, sleep only three hours a night and will not within a mile of any woman.
As you can guess, they change their celibate little attitudes the minute some shapely damsels arrive. But, communication being Shakespeare's point, the language of love will get these men into some serious trouble. They will learn in the course of the play that plain speaking is best, but the lesson will take a couple of hours as well as cost the young men a year of reprntance.
The poor village constable, aptly named Dull (who will become Dogberry in "Much Ado") is having his own difficulties with language: he can't understand a word from these grandiose babblers. The schoolmaster, who is as fond of Latin as he is of euphemisms, tends to rattle on ad infinitum ... ceaselessly ... endlessly ... "as it were... " (This is Shakespeare's right-cross to fellow dramatist John Lyly!)
With the benighted Don Adriano de Armado, Shakespeare polishes offthe Spanish once again, fresh from the defeat of their "invincible" Armada. This "fantastical" Spaniard tries to keep up with the poetical parlance all around him but he only manages to mangle his English, often into the opposite of what he intended, as when he attempts to "offer congratulations to the Princess in the posterior."
Director Spiro Veloudos places the lovers inEdwardian England in a cheery merry-go-round set by Janie E. Fliegel --- which doesn't, alas, go round but offers three colorful carousel steeds to mirror the horsy imagery in the text. The mood is chic (with evocative lighting by Yael Lubetzky) and the costumes by Jana Durland Howland are period posh, but their elegance undercuts the humor. The four bachelors look more like tennis pros than nob;emen and the ostentatious Spaniard misses out on a costume sight-gag by his formal tuxedo attire.
There ae many delightful and hilarious moments in the Publick's production, but the devil is in the details. Although it's funny to have the suitors-disguised-as Russians speak like Long John Silver, it doesn't make sense. Although the Spaniard is deliciously dense and endearingly off-balance, he sports a faux French accent which interferes with any comprehension whatsoever, and most importantly, even though everyone makes fun of it, he has no lisp! Then there's the smitten nobleman who swears by his "gloved hand" but happens to be gloveless; this could have been funny but the line was left hanging. No glove and no joke.
Details aside, the humor is plenty broad, with lots of bawdy jokes, for example about the girls "flourishing under the schoolmaster" and a healthy dose of double entendres for the lovers.
Neil McGarry is the dashing King and Scott Harrison the sharp-witted Berowne. With their pals Jared Voss and Matthew Amory they get their comeuppance from Chandra Piergostini as the clever French Princess and Dee Nelson as the tart-tongued Rosaline (who, with Berowne, will become Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado"), along with Jennifer Lampros-Valentine and Valerie Madden.
All the charming nobility are upstaged, however, by the merry pranksters: There's the upstart bumpkin cheekily played by Steve Rotolo, Dan Berwick as the sweetlt dim Dull, Traci L. Crouch as a spunky servant to the fantastical Spaniard, Frank Dixon as the daffy, inexplicably French Don Quixote, Bob Jolly as a snooty7 French attache, Clifford Allen as the pandering curate --- and, having the most fun of all sniffing out "false Latin" is Job Emerson as the perilously pompous pedant. "Video et gaudeo" or, as the Frenchman would put it, the comedy is happily "shame-proof."