Shakespearean antics abound

June 13, 2008|By William Hyder | William Hyder,Special to The Sun

An ancient Roman playwright named Plautus had a great idea for a comedy: A pair of twins are separated as infants. One twin, now grown, travels to a place where, unknown to him, he has a brother. Complications arise when the two are mistaken for one another.

Many centuries later, the idea still seemed funny to Shakespeare, so he borrowed it for a play of his own. To "make assurance double sure," as Macbeth once said, he created another pair of twins, also separated at a young age and now working as servants to the first pair.

The result is The Comedy of Errors, which the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is presenting in outdoor performances through July 12.

Shakespeare sets the action in the city of Ephesus and names the local man Antipholus and his servant Dromio. The newcomers, just arrived from Syracuse, are also named Antipholus and Dromio.

The troubles begin when Adriana, wife of the local Antipholus, meets Antipholus of Syracuse on the street, scolds him for being late to dinner and insists that he come home with her.

As they dine, Antipholus of Ephesus shows up and finds himself locked out. Enraged, he decides to visit a courtesan he knows and have dinner with her.

Meanwhile the visiting Antipholus falls for Adriana's unmarried sister, Luciana. She is shocked that her brother-in-law is hitting on her; he insists he never saw Adriana before in his life.

Then come business complications: Each Antipholus loses track of a large sum of money by entrusting it to the wrong Dromio. They get into mixed-up transactions with local merchants. Matters eventually get so tangled that the local Antipholus is arrested for debt.

Ben Fisler and Colby Codding, as the two Antipholuses (should it be Antipholi?), work hard to make the plot's complications clear. The Dromios, Jamie Hanna and Brandon Mitchell, have an easier time: Shakespeare provides them with comic wordplay and slapstick situations.

To mark them as twins, Fisler and Codding wear identical clothing; so do Hanna and Mitchell.

Rebecca Ellis and Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly give convincing accounts of Adriana and Luciana, respectively. In her few lines as the courtesan, Annie Grier displays deft acting and meticulous enunciation.

The Comedy of Errors is a funny and clever show, and director Ian Gallanar pushes it to extremes. The actors are encouraged to clown it up.

An abbess who turns up late in the play, for example, is drawn by Shakespeare as a person of dignity. In this production, she becomes a comic character (Jenny Leopold meets the challenge successfully).

All situations, even those that call for a degree of seriousness - one of the characters, for example, is under sentence of death - are treated farcically.

The stage bustles with outlandish comic business. A street kid (played by Bobby Hennberg, but not mentioned in Shakespeare's cast list) plugs one of the Dromios in the behind with a slingshot. A goldsmith (John Miller) tools around town on a Razor Scooter.

Costume designer Marilyn Johnson and set decorator Heidi Busch create a fantasy land in which time has no meaning.

Adriana and Luciana are put into grotesque hoopskirts, wigs in startling Day-Glo colors and harlequin glasses that evoke the 1950s.

Shaun Gould and Gregory Burgess, playing respectable merchants, appear in 1940s-style zoot suits, made in loud colors with huge check patterns.

The set decor takes the audience back to the flower power era of the 1960s. Huge artificial blossoms stand in vases. A wall is decorated with oversize polka dots in bright pastels.

In keeping with the general madness, bizarre recorded musical numbers punctuate the stage action.

Even in the wildest comedy, though, the audience has to follow the story. In this production Shakespeare's carefully arranged misunderstandings are swamped by the incessant hijinks.

The Comedy of Errors

Performances: June 15, 21, 22, 27, 28, and July 6, 10 and 12 at Patapsco Female Institute, 3691 Sarahs Lane, Ellicott City. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays. Doubleheader on Saturday, June 28: The Comedy of Errors at 5 p.m., The Tempest at 8 p.m.

Parking: Free in the Howard County Courthouse lot on Court House Drive.

Tickets: 866-811-4111 or www.chesapeake shakespeare.com.

Information: 410-313-8874.

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