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Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008

Lost in Translation?

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   Past scholars have often decried Love's Labour's Lost as wholly insignificant, a self-indulgent piece by William Shakespeare before he moved on to more serious work. More recently, Cambridge University's Anne Barton described the play as "relentlessly Elizabethan," with dialogue that is mostly inaccessible to modern audiences because it's filled with in-jokes and references that are specific to the 1590s. Despite these beliefs to the contrary, director Jennifer Uphoff Gray hopes to prove that the comedy can appeal to today's theatergoers when Milwaukee Shakespeare opens its production in the Studio Theatre of the Broadway Theatre Center on Sept. 6.

  Uphoff Gray, who has directed shows as far away as Broadway and as close as Madison, describes Love's Labour's Lost as a pop-culture comedy.

  "For a modern equivalent, think of it as an exceptionally well-written episode of 'Friends,'" she says.

  Certain aspects of any contemporary comedy would be lost on future generations, but quality humor contains universal elements that can stand the test of time. Shakespeare may be taking aim at humorous flaws of Elizabethan culture, but as Uphoff Gray points out, "Shakespeare's pointed criticism of his culture-however comedic-suits ours all too well."

  To give the play a modern take, Milwaukee Shakespeare places the production in contemporary society. "It is naturalistic in its approach," says Paula Suozzi, artistic director of Milwaukee Shakespeare. "Audiences will immediately recognize our own modern world, including much of the 'technological stuff' that accompanies living in today's world."

  The story follows the king of Navarre and three noble attendants who take an oath to devote the next three years of their lives to studying, even promising to avoid the company of women for that time. The actors assembled for this production are brilliantly cast and should be able to amplify the contemporary aspects of the comedy.

  Wayne T. Carr, who stars as the king, has appeared in a number of productions with Milwaukee Shakespeare and recently showed a talent for comedy in a Renaissance Theaterworks production of Neil LaBute's Fat Pig. Kevin Rich, who has played everything from a god to a Bohemian shepherd, portrays the king's noble attendant Berowne, who is reluctant to follow the king in his oath. Rich is a brilliant comedic actor who should be a lot of fun to watch. The rest of the cast, featuring talented theater veterans Norman Moses, Angela Iannone and Molly Rhode, as well as Milwaukee Shakespeare regulars and assorted fresh talent, should have no trouble fusing the 1590s with 2008.

  Milwaukee Shakespeare's production of Love's Labour's Lost runs Sept. 6-Oct. 5. For more information, call (414) 291-7800 or visit www.milwaukeeshakespeare.com.