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Fringe Review: Love's Labour's Lost

Mark Cofta of Philadelphia CityPaper

One of several plays extending beyond the Fringe's closing date ("A Great War" is another, also highly recommended), Revolution Shakespeare's lively, tuneful – and free – production of Shakespeare's early comedy brims with romance, enthusiasm, and cleverness.

Sam Reading's production is built for outdoor success: a simple lattice with vines defines a small playing area where the cast of 17 stay for the intermission-less show; the setting son is aided by strings of lights and a few strategically placed instruments (set and lighting by Andrew Cowles). The audience sits close, on grass and on stone steps.

The actors' movements are governed by four microphones, and they skillfully speak into them while also connecting with each other, often dashing from one mic to another. What could be a hindrance is made an asset, as every word is clearly heard and relationships are clarified by fun, hectic motion. The actors also wander through the audience, and we're encouraged to wander too, whether it's to stretch, buy food and drink (though bringing one's own is allowed, and popular), or visit the porta-potties; crossing the stage area to get there, as one patron did last night, elicited chuckles from the audience and the cast, and the play didn't falter.

Much is sung, with accompaniment by the entire cast on instruments ranging from a drum kit and maracas to flute and cello. Melissa Dunphy's pop compositions transform monologues into love songs, arguments into duets – and, yes, we're invited to sing along at times.

The cast is uniformly terrific – forgive me for not listing all their names! – a credit not only to their talents, but to Reading's smart direction and Cheryl Williams' contributions as text coach. It's fun to see them watch each other's scenes, because they all enjoy the show so much.

LLL's sometimes perplexing story – mainly because it doesn't have much of one – is clearly revealed. Four men decide to spend three years studying, which means no women – until the four women they adore appear. Half the cast are clowns, and they have their own simple tales that intersects with the couples' inevitable coupling. LLL feels like a rough draft of later Shakespeare plays; anyone who knows "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Much Ado About Nothing," or "As You Like It" will feel some déjà vu.

Artistic Director Griffin Stanton-Ameisen and company make this joyous from start to finish, and promise to return next fall with another Shakespeare play, – for which we should all be grateful.

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