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Love's Labor's Lost

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Love's Labor's Lost, Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Harold Bloom counts this "festival of language" as his favorite Shakespeare work, and possibly you do too if you're sent into fits of delight by nearly opaque wordplay ("Light seeking light doth light of light beguile"). The rest of us think Love's Labor's Lost the most tedious, insubstantial five acts Shakespeare ever created. King Ferdinand, wannabe ascetic, cajoles three buddies into joining him in three years of studious deprivation: no woman may come within a mile of his court. But the Princess of France and her three best gal pals are already on their way to pay a visit, and when the English boys behold the French girls, it's au revoir to their oaths. Thanks to endless witticisms, all this takes a good three hours.

Since director Barbara Gaines shoots for all-out comedy, it's not surprising that the juicy comic roles--Scott Jaeck's preening Castilian Casanova Don Armado, Ross Lehman's doltish do-nothing Costard, Paul Slade Smith's scholarly fussbudget Holofernes--steal the show. The play's gaggle of lovers, who aren't particularly funny, merely bounce buoyantly in their wakes. Only Karen Aldridge as the French princess brings any real gravity to the proceedings (and she handles Elizabethan verse as though it were her native tongue), while the others seem weightless as coeds on a picnic. Ultimately the comedy-at-all-costs approach backfires: little energy remains to move the flimsy plot forward.

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