Love’s labour’s lost, Next Theatre Company, at Noyes Cultural Arts Center. The word most people on the way out were using to describe this production was “cute.” That fits. Enthusiastically performed by a youthful, exuberant, if somewhat bland cast, this could easily pass for lighthearted Depression-era farce were it not for Shakespeare’s language. Hope for anything more profound is quickly scuttled as clumsy slapstick, overwrought stage business, and superfluous song-and-dance numbers render the somewhat weak plot concerning amorously intoxicated lovers largely inconsequential.

A few of the cast members have winning moments, most notably Thomas Kelly and Stephanie Ferrell as a sparring couple. But their efforts fall victim to the forced merrymaking and surprisingly shoddy production. Performed on a glaringly backlit stage with a hodgepodge set that makes it difficult to figure out where the action takes place, the production employs odd period costumes suggestive of the 1920s, making the affairs of King Ferdinand, the princess of France, and their cohorts seem like the dalliances of fraternity brothers and sorority sisters. Concluding the show with a lush but completely unnecessary performance of “September Song” from Knickerbocker Holiday smacks more of desperation than of inspired loopiness. Like much of the rest of Kim Rubinstein’s production, it indicates an inability to trust the play to resonate with the audience. –Adam Langer