In composing comedies for the Lord Chamberlain’s Players to perform before an Elizabethan audience, Shakespeare took care to include plenty of ribald jokes and bawdy stage business to keep the uncouth groundlings at the Old Globe theater happy. In restaging “Love’s Labour’s Lost” for the rebuilt Shakespeare’s Globe in London — and for the national American tour opening in New York — a.d. Dominic Dromgoole panders exclusively to modern-day groundlings. As an exhibition of low comedy, the show is notable for the cunning design and exhilarating execution of double entendres and vulgar sight gags. But it’s thin gruel for more refined theatrical palates.
Queen Elizabeth I saw this “pleasant conceited comedie,” one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, in 1598, and the lusty monarch probably got a kick out of the rude shenanigans of naughty rubes and rustics like that preposterous ass Don Adriano de Armado (Paul Ready) and nasty-minded clown Costard (Fergal McElherron).
But one suspects she was more taken with the subtler comic charms of the saucy Princess of France (the adorably high-spirited Michelle Terry), who outfoxes her pretty-boy suitor, the King of Navarre (Philip Cumbus), at every turn. And surely her intellectual Highness thrilled to the sexy mind games played by that brainy couple, Rosaline (the enchanting Thomasin Rand) and Berowne (the nicely matched Trystan Gravelle).
Shakespeare conceived of his romantic comedy as a playful examination of the conundrum that faces all educated, well-born youth — the delicious struggle between love and duty. Although entirely schematic, these are lively games of wit played by the young Princess, her three ladies in waiting and their besotted suitors.
But Dromgoole has so drastically restructured the romantic comedy that the royal players are robbed of their wit and reduced to the roles of rustics. And while the youthful performers gamely kick up their heels in stylized dances and athletic movement drills, all that kidding around eventually makes them look foolish.
Meanwhile, the real rustics are allowed to take over the stage with broad comedy routines predictably heavy on stuffed codpieces. The groundlings, it seems, have taken over.