THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD and LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST, Yugen Theatre, at Footsteps Theatre. When it comes to ambitious rotating repertory, Court Theatre has a plucky north-side rival in Yugen. The 15 company members double up in two plays about the deceptions that can foster or kill love, enacting Shakespeare's second-rate comedy indifferently and John Millington Synge's inexhaustible 1907 delight superbly.
The Playboy of the Western World is perhaps the most gorgeous play in our language, and in Lynn Ann Bernatowicz's pitch-perfect revival it's a two-hour, four-star joy. In the richly exaggerated plot, former wimp Christy Mahon gains a spooky notoriety when some County Mayo villagers come to believe he killed his father in a burst of rage. But his rhapsodic affair with Pegeen Mike, who adores him for the wrong reasons, is cut short when the truth becomes known, as the lovers learn the difference between "a gallant lie and a dirty deed."
Bernatowicz's ensemble mine Synge's wise poetry and surefire laughs, their accents perfect and their delivery of his cadences rolling like revelation. David L. White as Christy precisely conveys the bravado that barely masks the insecurity of this self-invented playboy, and Michele DiMaso's spitfire Pegeen matches his energy and eloquence: their scenes crackle with the awful ardor of lovers seduced by lies. Juicy work comes from Deborah Frieden as a very merry widow, Brad Reed as Pegeen's Milquetoast fiance, David Hadinger as her bibulous father, and Scott Rowe as a splenetic ghost from Christy's past.
Love's Labour's Lost, though energetically directed by Gordon Reinhart, is a hopelessly artificial play about four unlikable bachelors whose self-declared abstinence from love inevitably yields to appetite. Or, as the Bard puts it, "Oaths in love will prove an idle scorn." The play's few beautiful passages are surrounded by fustian and mannered action. Setting the play in 1929 Hollywood allows the actors to indulge in Marx Brothers takeoffs and Mack Sennett chases, making Shakespeare's tedious raillery even more incongruous. At 150 minutes, Yugen's dreary perkiness cries out for editing, but Frieden brings an authentic presence to her flirtatious princess, and Reed gives Berowne's cynicism heft and style. --Lawrence Bommer