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[whitespace] Fruitful 'Labour's': Andy Murray, left, as Berowne squares off for a battle of wits against Ursula Meyer as Rosaline.

Photograph by R.R Jones

The Sport Of Love

Shakespeare Santa Cruz debuts its summer season with a brisk and appealing 'Love's Labour's Lost'

By Julia Chiapella

DESIRE, JEALOUSY, HYPOCRISY. The three are the best of fodder for Shakespeare's comedies, and those elements are taken to smart and solid heights in Shakespeare Santa Cruz's current production of Love's Labour's Lost. Directed by festival newcomer Daniel Fish, this Love's Labour's Lost bounces with all the vigor and jousting wit of Shakespeare's text. The sport is in reposted insult, and Fish and his actors provide plenty of room to contest this age-old match: the battle of the sexes.

Oh, there's a charming subplot that revolves around the mockery of the dim-witted and the elevation of those who believe themselves to be in the know, but the real meat here is in the conquering powers of love. Love's Labour's Lost is stock torment; in the same manner that Beatrice openly vilifies and mercilessly outwits the lovesick Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, the rapier wit of Rosaline here pummels the pleading Berowne after he has pledged to put his mind to his studies for three years.

Along with King Ferdinand, Longaville and Dumaine, Berowne believes that such an endeavor will make them scholars of note. Of course, four ladies appear on cue to seduce them out of their vows, and the plot is set. We've all seen more complex and sophisticated stories, but the brilliance of the language and Fish's scrupulously slick staging make this an enjoyable afternoon romp through the festival glen.

Andrew Lieberman's wide, fuschia-colored set provides a vivid backdrop that serves double-duty for the actors, not only giving them a lurid counterpoint to their movements but also acting as a blackboard where the actors write oaths and make salient points. With only a couple of couches and a ladder as the main elements, Lieberman's stage frees the actors to glory in an ample space.

And glory they do. Ursula Meyer as Rosaline and Andy Murray as Berowne sling verbal arrows at one another with assurance and charisma. Balancing comedy and underlying tragedy with sophisticated finesse, Meyer and Murray move their characters through the minefields of wit with sensual languor, making their dance one of infinite variation. Meyer and Murray have performed nationally and regionally, and they bring to their roles an experienced weariness well suited to Rosaline and Berowne's antics. Lise Bruneau as the Princess of France and Bryan Torfeh as King Ferdinand of Navarre lend a capable strength and bravado to their parts.

James Newcombe as Holofernes, however, gets the heartiest guffaws. His Holofernes, a pompously effete wordsmith enthralled with hearing himself speak, is slyly manipulative and always willing to cast himself into the inferno of the English language, using Latin roots as his ammunition of nonsense. It is a prize part and open for melodramatic abuse, but Newcombe never succumbs. With the play's language, he doesn't have to. And when Holofernes derides the abuse of language at the hands of Don Adriano de Armado, it provides some of the production's best laughs.

There are the devices of mistaken identity and the clown, Costard, whose malapropisms and confusion provide the foil for the plot's pace--stock items in Shakespeare's comedies. To these Fish has set the play in an ambiguous retro 1950s landscape, replete with thin ties, long gloves and Doc Martins, and mixed a score that uses Shostakovich as well as Tom Waits. All this provides for a production that is taut and brisk, the perfect idyll for a summer's afternoon.

Love's Labour's Lost is a surefire indication that Shakespeare Santa Cruz has become a solid mainstay of West Coast repertory.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz's Love's Labour's Lost runs through Aug. 27 in the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen, Theater Arts Center, UC-Santa Cruz. Shows run at various times Tuesdays through Sundays. Tickets are $29-$19 before Aug. 7, $32-$21 after. (831.459.2159)

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From the July 19-26, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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