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Originally published March 22, 2013 at 5:01 AM | Page modified March 22, 2013 at 11:38 AM

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A witty Berowne, a stylish set for ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’

Seattle Shakespeare Company sets “Love’s Labour’s Lost” in 1920s Britain to stylish effect, writes critic Misha Berson. Through April 7, 2013.

Seattle Times theater critic

THEATER REVIEW

‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’

By William Shakespeare. A Seattle Shakespeare Company production, through April 7 at Center Theatre, Seattle Center; $22-$45 (206-733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.org).

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Great performance! Loved the set and the costumes! MORE

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The blades are duded up in tie and tails, and partying like it was 1928 in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s new staging of “Love’s Labour's Lost.”

The young King of Navarre (Jason Sanford) and his champagne-swilling posse led by the dashedly witty quipster Berowne (Paul Stuart) might have staggered out of an Evelyn Waugh novel or a Noël Coward play.

Are they cavorting at an exclusive gay men’s club? If not, where are the ladies?

In this early Shakespeare bauble, which here gets an attractive if unevenly performed display, the gals show up later. And not before the guys pledge to swear off booze and l’amour for a long spell — a pact made to be broken.

Director Jon Kretzu isn’t alone in setting the play among this swanky set. Kenneth Branagh, for one, did so in a movie musical version.

But the milieu befits the romp, especially with the period pop music, Deane Middleton’s glorious costumes, and Andrea Bryn Bush’s marvelous indoor/outdoor set for SSC. (Grass upholsters chairs, and peeks out from the lid of a white grand piano.)

Still, “Love’s Labour's Lost” isn’t a breeze to pull off. The high jinks and infatuations of the callow aristocrats, the pomposity of their tutors and the women’s stratagems to teach the boys a lesson can get belabored and clotted with wordplay. And even for light comedy, most characters are wispy-thin.

What’s very diverting about this rendition are the stylish atmospherics and animated gags Kretzu and his team insert, and a handful of nifty performances.

In his first (and we hope not last) Seattle role, Stuart is a top-drawer Berowne, dispatching the verse so crisply and lucidly one appreciates every bon mot this elegant wag tosses off.

Scott Ward Abernethy as an unflappable foppish servant, and George Mount and Allan Armstrong as insufferably smug, Latin-spouting pedants, also gratify. Mike Dooly adds a good dash of rude menace, giving the randy clown Costard a dark leer and a penchant for plundering.

While they inspire hilariously bad love poetry and outlandish antics, the visiting French princess (Samara Lerman) and her ladies in waiting can be cool customers. Too cool. Chic in their swell outfits, they otherwise can seem rather colorless and verbally flat — notably Lerman, and Kayla Lian as Berowne’s adored Rosaline. (Her gleaming wit is a warm-up for Beatrice in the Bard’s later “Much Ado About Nothing.”)

David Quicksall gives Don Adriano de Armado, a grandiose Spaniard, more integrity and less buffoonery than usual. But his slo-mo speech, and the tiresome pace of a big comic pageant near the end, help stretch the show to nearly three hours.

What captivates throughout is the visual panache — right up to the final evocative moments of bittersweet farewell, and falling snow at revel’s end.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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