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The title of Shakespeare’s "Love’s Labour’s Lost" refers to the lost work of courting when Ferdinand, King of Navarre, decides to turn his court into an academy and asks three of his lords to forsake romance for three years and devote themselves to academic pursuits.

In the Waterloo Bridge Theatre Company production, "lost" describes the cause. There’s so much wrong here that one scarcely knows where to begin.

The problems start with multi-tasking director Michael Hagins, who doubles as fight-and-dance choreographer and triples as costume designer. Hagins miscasts, misdirects and tries to misinform the audience into believing "Love’s Labour’s Lost" is a kind of camp classic. His amateurish actors either overact or deliver lines in stilted monotones.

If Shakespeare’s comic women are bawdy and audacious, Hagins’ actresses are flirtatious and silly. If Shakespeare’s very funny men are outrageous and bombastic, Hagins’ actors are mincing and inane. Young, under-funded companies seldom have the luxury of experienced actors, and many of Hagins’ performers are obviously just out of school (institutions of higher education figure prominently on their resumes), but still, their lack of elocution is deplorable and disappointing.

Hagins gives himself the credit for costume design, but the actors are dressed so haphazardly and inconsistently (while some look like they’ve just left a club, others look like they’re on their way to the office and still others wear clothing suitable for a formal affair), it seems as if they were left to their own devices. This is doubly unfortunate because the scenery - a few fake flowers on poles and a hanging tapestry - is so minimal, that appropriate dress might have helped the audience with setting the time and place. (Hagins says its summer 2004.)

Written in 1594, "Love’s Labour’s Lost" is one of Shakespeare’s first plays. Unlike much of his work, the comedy is not based on any earlier work but was inspired by life at court. More specifically, the play reflects the conflict between love and learning that was currently being debated by such noteworthies as Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey and dramatist Thomas Nashe.

Although in the real world the debate continues, in "Love’s Labour’s Lost," Shakespeare is clearly on the side of love. When the Princess of France (Lindsey Anderson) arrives with her entourage - Rosaline (Carrie Rachel Ellman), Maria (Lisa Sredniawski) and Katherine (Sara Paar), the King (Clark Main) and his lords (Jon Stockdale, David Rynn and Branden Buckalew) quickly forget their academic pursuits and the monastic life to succumb to their charms.

Disguised as Muscovites, they pledge their love to the women to whom they believe they are enamored, only to discover they have been fooled. They have each picked the wrong masked woman. Quite naturally, the ladies mistrust their suitors’ sincerity and give them a year to shape up before they will consider marriage.

Unlike Shakespeare’s mature work, "Love’s Labour’s Lost" relies more on puns and wordplay for its humor than the development of uniquely funny characters and situations. If the audience loses any of the language, they lose the joke.

After a while, this reviewer lost interest.

At a time when so many companies are falling back on old warhorses like "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," it’s certainly commendable for a company to take on the lesser known "Love’s Labour’s Lost." What would have been even more desirable is a better understanding of the work and a more subtle realization on stage.

The play would have been vastly superior if Alberto Rey, who plays Costard, the rustic delivery boy, had not merely transferred his portrayal of the servant, Looka, in Waterloo Bridge’s production of "The Bear" to "Love’s Labour’s Lost"; if Christos Bakolias had not played the Spanish braggart Don Adriano de Armado as if he were Salvador Dali trapped in a Shakespearean comedy; and if the role of de Armado’s page, Moth, was not given to a lady, Michela Chiarello (although still referred to as a boy), who seems to be constantly flirting with her master.

In the past, this company has shown considerable promise. Hopefully, they’ll put this mess behind them and continue forging ahead in the future.

Waterloo Bridge Theatre Company’s production of "Love’s Labour’s Lost" plays through June 27, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm, at 475 Third Ave. at 10th Street in Gowanus. Tickets are $15, $10 students. For reservations, call (347) 489-5459.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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