The Comedy of Errors is an early play, and it shows. No earthshaking themes, no central character the plot revolves around, nothing but generally understandable misunderstandings. So it is the director's prerogative to have a field day with character motivations, and bits of business to embellish the proceedings. And this is what Beverly Bullock did exceedingly well, working with her talented cast -- a grimace here, a nudge there, a wink/nod/gulp/double-take as needed, making the business so natural to the proceedings that it's a surprise to find they are not in the stage directions.
And whether it was a contingency of casting or merely a fortuitous happenstance, changing the Duke of Ephesus to the Duchess, and having her played by Patricia McNamara, was an inspired choice. Although she only shows up at the beginning and the end, her delicious lunacy served as the perfect bookends to the frantic goings-on. What is usually merely exposition -- Egeon (Geoffrey Dawes) being sentenced to death and the story of the twins' early life -- became comic delight. Completely serious in her own demeanor yet glorying in wielding her scepter and orb, her delight in her power mixed with understated insanity.
And the rest of the performances were equally sharp, knowing, and (most importantly) funny. Carol Jacobanis got laughs from the lines as well as her pauses, and made Adriana more of a plot-center than usually seen. Jennifer Kramer's Luciana had a good, stylized physical humor, although she did seem to be trying a little too hard to have her lines appear natural.
As written, the parts of the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios are not equal, but while Syracusians Matthew Klan and Marc Greece came out ahead in the comedy department, Ephesusers Michael Cavaliere and Greg Dubner became very funny in their anger just before all the unraveled plot elements got re-raveled. Even though some of the topical humor, where Greece's Dromio compares the corpulent kitchen maid to a globe, has dated (and is incredibly un-pc -- Shakespeare was clearly playing to the gallery), it's still a laff-riot.
So there was also funniness by David Heston as Dr. Pinch -- he's referred to as a wizard and he came on dressed like one; Marian Barnoski as the Courtesan, inordinately fond of her rings; Ron Hirt as an Officer gladly brandishing his weapon and making an apple a funny prop; Phylis Rossi, who was funny as a grim Second Merchant as well as the corpulent Nell; and Liz Forst as the Abbess, funny both when she was lecturing as well as when she regains her family, the play's only moving moment.
The setting was quite simple -- the three doors could double as a set for A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (well, why not? Forum was based on Plautus too); the costumes were opulent; but there was an unfortunate dimly lit spot stage left (production design by Bullock).
The play's humor is unsubtle, there's little character shading -- it's all in how the game is played. The only question unanswered is how the now-adult two twin sets are dressed alike, after having been separated for so long. Well, without that there's no play, and this production was too much fun to quibble about it.
Also with David Hollander and Tony White.
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Copyright 2003 David Mackler