November 20, 2003

Stranger in a Strange Land

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So, do you think you know Shakespeare? If your experience with the bard runs the regular gamut from frothy summer stock performances to heavy-handed soliloquising to the LSD enhanced hallucinations presented by Baz Luhrmann, then you still won’t have any experience that can prepare you for the feast of the senses presented by The Comedy of Errors. Now, you may be thinking you’re a little old for this sort of admonition, but trust me when I say you will be amazed by Director Beth F. Milles’s vision.

Set in the Turkish town of Ephesus, this is a story of twins separated at birth, their eventual reunion, and all the hilarious blunders that occur between those two moments. Along the way are sub-plots dealing with a second set of twins who act as bondsmen to the main twins, a romantic twist involving sisters, and a fabulously diabolical doctor.

First thing to note about this adaptation is the incredible set: this was a joy to watch and I thank E.D. Intemann, the Scenic Designer, for his fantastic vision. With such a fluid, easily manipulated, and abstract set, an ambiance conjuring the strange and bizarre world of dreams and hallucinations was established. Part of the appeal of this play is that the audience has to be taken to another realm where they can believe that fantastical and outlandish things, such as the situations which the play presents, can really happen. And what dream world would be complete without an ensemble of curious and sometimes frightening characters clothed in eccentric garb sure to catch the amazement of the audience? For her eminent textile dexterity, a big round of applause goes to Costume Designer Sarah E. Bernstein. She skilfully creates appropriately lovely costumes for all of the cast, but really shines when it comes to the oddball characters observed running rampant in the shadows.

Without a doubt, this is a solid show in every sense. The background and costumes evoke a realm in which the performance of the actors shines and illuminates everything around them. Playing the main twins, Laurence Drozd as Antipholus of Ephesus and Matthew Keagle as Antipholus of Syracuse are both hilarious and sympathetic as they react with understandable bewilderment to their day: everyone mistaking one twin for the other. Danielle Thorpe glitters (literally) as Drozd’s shrewish wife Adriana, and Krystal Bowden lends a calm, capable hand as her brainy sister Luciana. Star turns were put in by RPTA’S Godfrey Simmons Jr., Marc Moritz, and Sarah K. Chalmers as, respectively, the miserable father Egeon, the delightfully diabolical Dr. Pinch, and the heavenly Abbess whose feet don’t even touch the ground. Though these are not the biggest parts in the play, they are definitely the most memorable.

The Comedy of Errors is presented as an extremely physical comedy, perhaps exemplified best in the characters of the Dromio twins, played by Jeffrey de Picciotto and Christopher Davis. While these characters have perhaps some of the most arcane lines in the play, de Picciotto and Davis infuse such life and energy into their performances that the audience is sure to get the joke. Another great physical performance is that of Craig Wesley Divino as he portrays Angelo, the goldsmith. Everything about his creepy, single-minded Angelo made me chuckle. And of course no Shakespeare comedy would be complete without cross-dressing: Amin Jamil Kirdar as Luce, the amply proportioned wife of Dromio of Ephesus, and Beau Brinker as the campy Courtesan.

The cast, the background, and the costumes all play into the sense of isolation and bewilderment that resonates throughout the play. Antipholus of Syracuse is lost in a strange town where everyone seems to know him, and yet they do not. Antipholus of Ephesus is in his familiar environment, and yet everyone around him seems to be going crazy. This play brings up questions of belonging, being a foreigner sometimes in your own home, and looking for a lost part of one’s self.

There’s just too much in this play to describe everything that is magical and enthralling about it, leaving me with the exact opposite problem that usually afflicts reviewers: nothing to say about the show. In this instance, there’s too much to say and I could go on and on, raving compliments about the show and showering endorsements for it on everyone. But, since I have limited space, I’ll sum this up by saying that I honestly can’t remember a live theatre show, let alone a Shakespearean production, that I have enjoyed as much as I enjoyed The Comedy of Errors. So go see it, take your friends, your significant others, people you don’t like, strangers, everyone, just see it. It’s that good.

The Comedy of Errors premieres tonight and runs from November 20-22, all 3 shows at 8pm. After a little break (kudos to Thanksgiving), the play returns for shows on December 4-6, 8pm evenings and a special matinee performance on December 6 at 2pm. Bring your snow shoes.

Archived article by Sue Karp