This comedy of errors tries a bit too hard

May 07, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

Collaborators Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and George Abbott bastardized Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" to create their 1938 musical, "The Boys From Syracuse." So in theory, there are grounds for some of the liberties director Todd Pearthree takes in the latest production by his Musical Theatre ,, MAchine, in residence at the Spotlighters.

One of the first things you notice when you enter the tiny theater is the signs advertising the various shops in ancient Ephesus, where the musical takes place. One resembles the Mastercard logo; on another, the "m" in "merchant" is shaped like the golden arches.

These symbols are repeated in a few of the costumes, and the overall effect -- combined with a host of silly wigs -- creates the expectation of a no-holds-barred farce comparable to "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," not an inappropriate expectation since "Forum" and Shakespeare's "Errors" are both based on Plautus.

But this serviceable production never quite achieves that level of controlled comic hysteria. Instead, Pearthree's staging at times suggests he's aiming for camp. However, this is a tricky tone to achieve, particularly in little theater. For example, dolled up in a blond wig, Richard W. Lloyd's Antipholus of Syracuse looks like Harpo Marx; is this intentional or just unfortunate costuming?

Pearthree has made another choice that will probably rub some Rodgers and Hart purists the wrong way. He has added two chestnuts from the songwriters' other shows -- "Wait Till You See Her" from "By Jupiter" and "Spring is Here" from "I Married an Angel." The most obvious reason for this would be to bolster a weak score, but that's hardly the case with a show whose songs include "Falling in Love With Love" and "This Can't Be Love."

Or, perhaps the inspiration was such successful recent Gershwin pastiches as "My One and Only" and "Crazy for You." But of course, these shows were pieced together from originals that lacked strong books. The same can hardly be said for a musical based on Shakespeare's ribald and tightly crafted "Comedy of Errors" -- a mistaken-identity tale about two sets of twins, Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse, and their twin servants, both named Dromio.

The production does include several entertaining performances. Liz Boyer is hilarious as the shrewish wife of Dromio of Epheseus, and she and Ron Bopst's Dromio of Syracuse do ample justice to one of the wittiest numbers, "He and She." Similarly, Boyer and the two female leads, played by Jane E. Brown and Beth Weber, harmonize amusingly in "Sing for Your Supper."

Two numbers in the second act suggest the antic sense the production appears to be aiming for -- "Come With Me," in which Mark Briner's Antipholus of Ephesus is carted off to jail, accompanied by a male chorus singing the praises of imprisonment, and "Oh, Diogenes," in which the music as well as the choreography are tinged with irony.

Pearthree's production uses the script that was altered for the 1963 off-Broadway revival. That version ran longer than its Broadway predecessor, but the joke-filled text has always displeased George Abbott, the original writer. In a sense, it suits this production -- both seem to be trying a little too hard.

"The Boys From Syracuse"

Where: Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St.

When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; May 16, 23 and 30 at 7 p.m.; matinees Sundays at 2 p.m. Through May 30.

Tickets: $14.

Call: (410) 825-2554.

** 1/2

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