A Simple, Unassuming 'Love's Labour's Lost' Outdoors At St. Joseph's

The Capital Classics presentations at the University of St. Joseph are so simple, unassuming and unadorned that they're more about resting on a comfortable lawn than having to get too deeply involved in a Shakespeare play. "Love's Labour's Lost" is ideal for such a leisurely midsummer relaxation.

The comedy's titular labour is abstinence. The King of Navarre and his three Lords (Longaville, Dumaine and Berowne) have decided to give up women for a while so they can concentrate on their studies. (Their heterosexuality is apparently not in doubt.) Just as they make this vow, they are visited by the irresistible Princess of France and her equally attractive three attendants Maria, Katherine and Rosaline. How comically convenient.

Throw in some misdelivered mash notes, a scene of mistaken identities (it's amazing how much a lady's veil can mask), and a show-within-a-show that approaches the silliness of the Pyramus and Thisbe scene in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and you're all set for a pleasant spell on the lawn.

Recited without microphones and lightly staged (by David Watson), this is harmless fluff that works best when the actors aren't trying too hard. The heavier the costumes or the comic accents, the more the production loses its way. It's a question of grandstanding versus being part of an ensemble. The offenders are, as Shakespeare might put it, "not generous, not gentle, not humble."

Among the most engaging performers are Corey Welden, who flits amusingly as Moth (the pageboy of Don Adriano de Armado) without going into comic overdrive, Eddie DeJesus-Diaz as the befuddled constable Anthony Dull and Caitlin Harrity as the Princess of France. The Princess is the only character in the play who must contend with a personal issue more serious than a momentarily broken heart. Harrity comes off as sensible, forthright and worthy of the king's attention, striving to live up to every description of her in the play: "fair," "dear," "admired," "sweet"…

For a show where sexism and chauvinism drive the plot, having several minor male characters portrayed by women (including Capital Classics co-founder Laura Sheehan as the mustachioed attendant Boyet and Debra Walsh as the curate Nathaniel) is an intriguing choice. A ripe current-events comic opportunity is missed when a group of alleged Russians crash the party. Capital Classics goes with antiquated Cossack-style Russians who do kazotsky kicks rather than ripping a riff from this month's news headlines.

The set is a simple yet effective platform framed by two pillars, with a surprise special effect that emerges quietly after a couple of scenes. Nothing jarring — like most of the show it's as cool as running water.

"Love's Labour's Lost" has always seemed unnecessarily long at two and a half hours, but that's Shakespeare's fault. Capital Classics provides a 15-minute intermission after the fourth of the show's five acts.

Constant declarations of love. Repetitive romantic confusions. Too much attention paid to the word "pricket."

One could take issue with some of the overacting, and some tedious talky scenes that could use some of the pageantry that director David Watson brings to so many of the character's entrances and interactions. But it's hard to get worked up about a show that's so cleanly and clearly presented, on such a beautiful lawn in West Hartford, on a warm summer's night.

"LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST" by William Shakespeare is performed outdoors on the campus of the University of St. Joseph, 1678 Asylum Ave., West Hartford. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5:30 p.m., continuing through July 30. If it's raining, performances are at the university's Hoffman Auditorium. Tickets are $15, $10 for students and seniors. 860-218-0300, capitalclassics.org.

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