Off-off Broadway, Play with music

Location: Brick Theater

Nate Faust and Aimme Cucchiaro in PunkRock/LoveSong.

BOTTOM LINE: A valiant effort at adapting one of Shakespeare's less popular comedies, PunkRock/LoveSong is loud, energetic and a lot of fun, even if it doesn't always make sense.  

PunkRock/LoveSong is an ambitious project; director Heidi Grumelot and her collaborator Jaq Bessell have adapted Love's Labour's Lost by setting it in the East Village punk rock scene. The king and his royal companions are here members of the band Navarre; the visiting Princess and her retinue make up the rival band. Much of the adaptation is successful- the play is trimmed to about an hour and forty five minutes (with punk songs), and except for the occasional word change, the bulk of the text is Shakespeare's. The primary story, that concerning the two rival bands, is clear and fairly easy to follow. The music (by Dan Beeman of Helmet) is great; it's loud (as it should be), often funny, and well-performed by the cast (along with a few hidden musicians). If you don't mind a lot of Shakespeare with your punk, this is the show for you.

However, the decision to adapt Love's Labour's Lost this way is a curious one. The original play centers around a group of nobles who take an oath to swear off women and devote themselves to studying. While the concept of "punk" can mean many things, it generally incorporates the idea of raging against the establishment and breaking rules whenever possible. So the idea of a group of punks swearing off sex and drugs (in this version, the guys sing "Don't drink, don't smoke, don't fuck") is a bit strange.

While PunkRock/LoveSong might make sense if you're intimately familiar with the various subplots in Love's Labour's Lost, most people aren't. Love's Labour's Lost is not often produced. PunkRock/LoveSong includes many of the secondary characters, including Don Armado and his page Moth, Holofernes, and Sir Nathaniel. Unfortunately, it is often unclear who these people are (other than East Village denizens of some sort), or what their relation is to the main action. I think more could be done to explicate these characters- some additional text, or different character choices, or even a few notes in the program might help.

The cast is extremely energetic, and for the most part, every character is entertaining and fun to watch. The trouble is, Shakespearean text is tricky. If not done properly (for example, too quickly), it can be difficult to understand what is happening. Some of the less experienced actors fell into the common trap of speeding through their lines, so that while I heard the poetry, the actual meaning of the text was lost. I thought Tommy Day Carey as Ron (Berowne) gave perhaps the best performance; he had fun with his role, but I always knew what he was saying and why he was saying it. Nate Faust as Nan Duke (King Ferdinand) and Elena Chang as Rosa (Rosaline) also were good in this respect. And J. Stephen Brantley was excellent as Cost (Costard), the clown.

Michael Liscio Jr. played Boyet (a Lord attending on the Princess in the original). He played this role as a Boy-ette, a flamboyant, homosexual band manager who lusted after the men of Navarre. While Liscio drew many laughs, I wasn't a big fan of this decision (although I realize I may be in the minority here). I've gotten tired of seeing mincing gay characters who exist solely to get laughs, without having any life of their own. Given the lengths they went to in adapting this text, I wish that Grumelot and Bessell had done more to flesh out this character, and relied less on easy stereotype.

However, I should reiterate that there is a lot of potential here- good music, interesting costumes, and a group of actors who clearly have talent. The packed audience seemed to enjoy it, and there were lots of laughs throughout the evening. While the original run has ended, I understand that the producers are hoping to put this production up again in the future. If Grumelot and Bessell continue to work on this, PunkRock/LoveSong could become a great piece of downtown theatre.

(PunkRock/LoveSong was presented by Horse Trade Theater, and played at the Brick Theatre September 30- October 3. The run has ended, but for more information, visit