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Love is a Laugh 

A battle of the sexes is well played in Akron

Everyone from politicians to salesmen can become entranced with the sound of their own rap, and that usually leads directly to tedium for anyone forced to listen. This malady also can affect great playwrights, as has always been evident in Love's Labours Lost, now being staged by the Ohio Shakespeare Festival.

This rather insubstantial comedy features swirling eddies of words that can push away an audience if not delivered with comedic verve and precise intent. Thankfully, OSF director Terry Burgler is unsurpassed in interpreting the atomic word bombs that old Will created.

In this piece, a four-corner battle of the sexes shares the stage with a succession of lyrical digressions that verge on the excessively precious. Fortunately, the cast adopts a wry approach and, with distinct attacks in speech after speech, finds a great deal of fun in Lost.

As for the plot, Ferdinand, the king of Navarre, has made a pledge that he and his three lords will go cold turkey with the fairer sex for three years, as they pursue glory through the life of the mind. Of course, that promise fades when the boys are knocked loopy by the princess of France and her three ladies.

The thrust and parry among these eight make up a large dollop of the amusement in this play, anchored by Andrew Cruse, who plays the leading lord, Berowne, with a frat-boy sensibility. Cruse chews his lines with relish and quickly recruits the audience to his side.

He is well matched by Lara Knox as the princess, who exerts her presence as she encourages her ladies to playfully rebuff the gentlemen's advances.

The good times escalate in the second act when Berowne eavesdrops on the king (Eric Lualdi) and his other two lords, Longaville (Joe Pine) and Dumaine (Jeremy Jenkins). Soon all four guys discover that each is smitten. That's when they decide to disguise themselves as Muscovites who will win the women through dance.

Forget that the plan makes no sense. It enables a jocular scene where the bearded quartet is stomping for the ladies, who are clued in to the masquerade and have hidden their true identities. Tess Burgler fashions a sprightly Rosaline, teasing and tormenting love-struck Berowne at every turn.

True to Shakespeare's comedy format, there's a subplot involving some notably eccentric characters. As Costard, a peasant who beds milkmaid Jaquenetta, Ernie Gonzalez utilizes his flat vocal delivery to augment the humor of his lines. And Terry Burgler as the over-the-top Spaniard, Don Adriano De Armado, postures and preens with the best.

Richard Figge is amusing as the scholarly Holofernes, a pedantic schoolmaster who has never seen a nit at which he would not pick. In addition, Henry C. Bishop as the aptly named constable Dull gets one of the biggest laughs from an appreciative audience. In response to Holofernes' chiding, "Via, Goodman Dull! Thou hast spoken no word all this while," Dull rejoins with, "Nor understood none either, sir."

In the role of Moth, Armado's page, Benjamin Fortin opts for speed and not comprehension in the interplay with his boss. Since some of his lines were too soft to hear, diaphragm-strengthening exercises might be recommended. Amanda Davis' Jaquenetta also never quite rises to the wenchiness one might desire.

But when the secondary characters put on a play within a play, various famous heroes are lampooned with gusto. This playlet serves as a rollicking setup for the downbeat ending indicated by the title.

Indeed, there is no kissy-face finale to this comedy, as a tragedy in the princess' family sobers everyone up. Once again, pledges of abstinence are made, but these feel rooted in true affection and thereby stand a chance at being realized. Either that, or this is a group-blueballing of epic proportions.

Played on their outdoor stage near the placid lagoon on the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens grounds, the OSF presents well-crafted, clearly enunciated Shakespeare. Combine that with the basket of wine and cheese you might choose to bring along for a before-show repast, and this becomes a summer evening that's superior to most.

Love's Labours Lost

Through July 23, produced by the Ohio Shakespeare Festival at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 714 North Portage Path, Akron, 330-673-8761, ohioshakespeare.com

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