A Comedy of Errors holds the distinction of being both Shakespeare's shortest play as well as (most likely) his first play too. Based on the Roman comedy Menaechmi, which loosely translates into The Twin Brothers, A Comedy of Errors is about two pairs of identical twin brothers, who become embroiled in a madcap farce of mistaken identities. With its nonstop confusion and completely implausible plot, ...Errors is a hilarious template for the many mistaken-identity farces that came afterwards.
The Oberon Theatre Company boasts that its production "employs the unrehearsed, first folio technique, which replicates the original performance style of Shakespeare's acting company.". This is a circumlocutious way of saying that the play was produced unrehearsed.
Actors were on book, with each performer taking a different role in each performance. Directing was essentially nonexistent. The result was a chaotic mess, with constantly fumbled lines, almost-random blocking, and little opportunity on the actors' part to demonstrate any theatrical technique.
Performed outdoors, in Central Park, the performance was open to the public and free of charge. While this made the show accessible to drama-minded park-goers, it also means that the performances were besieged by distractions, not limited to helicopters, passing Parks Department vehicles, plenty of dogs, and audience members coming and going.
While there was no directing, there was a prompter (dressed as referee, complete with gym whistle), who sat upstage, occasionally using his whistle to call time-outs when the helicopters got too loud. For this performance, Referee Michael Yahn exerted some degree of control over the proceedings, but the result could not be called directing.
Performances were awkward; the inevitable result of minimal preparation. Even for an on-book reading there were far too many fumbled or misinterpreted lines, with a few lost entirely in the confusion. It is almost pointless to commend or criticize any individual actor, since the cast played different roles in each performance, but the Oberon Theatre Company no doubt had some fine actors buried beneath this production.
Because the show was staged outdoors, there were no technical elements. Natural sunlight was used, and the only sound effects came from the gym whistle. The set was limited to the prompter's folding table, although a couple of audience members were brought onstage to represent the door in Act V.
Costumes were generally adequate, though not particularly elaborate. The one noteworthy costuming idea was the use of identical costumes on the twin characters, which were (obviously) not played by twins in this production.
It is to be hoped that Oberon is exaggerating their claim that this is how Shakespeare's work was originally produced. Otherwise, Elizabethan audiences were extremely forgiving. The Oberon Theatre Company is usually a reliable company that could undoubtedly make an exceptional show out of A Comedy of Errors, but their "Folio technique" came across as nothing more than halfhearted, pretentious, occasionally entertaining amateurism.
Featuring (John Fitzmaurice, Matthew Kelty, Bill Green, Marta Reiman, Chuck McLane, Matthew Staley, Laura Siner, Gram Watts, Grace Pettijohn, Gram Watts, Joan Fishman, Collin Biddle, Bethany Freier, Kim Schultz, and Brad Fryman.)
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Copyright 2004 Charles Battersby