"The Comedy of Errors"is a pretty silly play, when all is said and done. Based on "The Menaechmi", by the Roman comic playwright Plautus, it not only depends heavily on the confusion of twins (in this case two sets), but also on many of the classic comic types still familiar in modern situation comedy. To be sure, there are also some fairly substantial themes underlying the nonsense, but the success of the evening depends much more on "faster, louder, funnier" than on any real subtlety or nuance.
This production, directed with enthusiastic confidence by Karen Lund, is fast paced, good spirited, thoroughly engaging and honestly satisfying. At times the humor is so broad it's almost embarrassing, but then one remembers the whole Commedia del Arte tradition, which greatly influenced the younger Bard. In that, the traveling troupes played to peasants for whom the jokes needed to be bawdy, obvious and physical. Not that this production ever becomes a Punch and Judy show. There is some lovely delivery of Shakespeare's gorgeous language, enough sweet romance to win and woo, and plenty of expertly controlled action maintained at an impressive pace. The physical production is quite beautiful, with the well-designed sets (Mark Lund) accented by rich and very attractive costumes (Karin Pascho), and solidly competent lighting by Jody Briggs. The decision to set the action in a somewhat incongruous 1895 simply made the city of Ephesus even more exotic, and perhaps a bit less distant.
As the twins, Antipholus of Ephesus (Christopher Johnson) and Antipholus of Syracuse (Eric Maahs) both were effective and charming, with just the right blend of the regal and the utterly insubstantial. I particularly liked Mr. Maahs, who seemed confused in an especially royal and entitled way. The two servants, Dromio of Ephesus (Christopher Bange) and Dromio of Syracuse (Robert Borwick) do a lot of the comedic heavy lifting in this show. Mr. Bange, especially, played at the high end of the comedy scale, and while there were times when it seemed a bit too labored, too pushy, his effort and energy was admirable. I thought the restraint Mr. Borwick used in shaping his character gave the pair a nice balance. In addition, his obvious expertise with the sword, and with physical comedy in general, were fine additions to the entire production's level of competence.
Adriana (Kelly Welsh-McNerny) and Luciana (Kelly Balch) made a fine pair, complimenting each other physically and maintaining excellent communication. While Adriana was quite competent, Kelly Balch was really something quite special. It is only when one encounters an actor like this, for whom the rhythms and richness of that grand poetry seem as natural as breathing that one recognizes how perfect the Elizabethan combination of sound and sense can be. Her voice, her sensibility to the language, and her embodiment of the meaning set the standard for the evening, and was probably a finer thing, in and of itself, than anything else in this play.
Because the rest of the evening was mostly just fast, fun silliness. There is a terrible danger when a company first undertakes Shakespeare to drape it in reverence and portent. This production never forgot that the object of the comedy is merriment, and that the ridiculous was present in practically every facet of concept, script, character and execution. Taproot took a big chance with this show, and they have achieved a big success, by remaining modest and honest.
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