Utter chaos is the best description of any showing of William Shakespeare’s classic farce, “A Comedy of Errors.” But in the case of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s latest rendition, the chaos has transcended pointlessness and evolved into well-controlled, carefully executed hilarity. Staying true to the Mediterranean aura of the original script, the play opens with a dramatic Turkish flourish - a mood that permeates the remainder of the play. From elaborately embroidered costumes to provocative belly dancing, the setting evokes unfamiliarity and exoticism compelling enough the make the implausible plot believable.
Those who believe in strict adherence to all of Shakespeare’s words and stage commands will not enjoy the mimed opening scene, where characters in white masks act out the splitting of two pairs of twins during a fierce sea storm. As the onstage ship splits into two, the mimes gesture desperately, and patrons may glance at their ticket stubs wondering, “This play is called ‘A Comedy of Errors,’ isn’t it?” Lingering doubts may continue well into scene one, wherein a lonely prisoner kneels on the floor, recounting the tragic take of the above-mentioned shipwreck and awaiting the news of his death for landing onto the island of Ephesus, an act illegal for any inhabitant of Syracuse. Given one day to find ransom or else suffer death, the prisoner, Egeon (Ralph Cosham), emerges into the city to beg for help.
At this point, the comedy begins and continues through a whirlwind series of mistaken identities. Both pairs of twins split during the sea storm caper about Ephesus and unintentionally wreak havoc upon the town. One set of twins, belonging to Ephesus, is named Antipholus (Gregory Wooddell and Paul Whitthorne), and their twin servants are each named Dromio (Damiel Breaker and LeRoy McClain). The primary comedic element comes from both Dromios, whose confusion at their masters’ seeming changeability, propensity to mock everyone around them and utter terror at the wooing of the overweight, blemish-riddled kitchen wench (Sandra L. Murphy) are hilarious. While running from her wooing, Dromio of Syracuse describes her as “spherical, like a globe. I could find countries in her body” ... Let’s not even get into where exactly the Netherlands is located on this voluptuous dame.
Of course, any humor is multiplied when the character involved is wearing red puffballs, as is the case with Dromio. While red puffballs may not be as historically accurate or as Mediterranean ? la mode as the adornments gracing the costumes on rest of the cast, having a character who looks like a clown allows for easy ridiculing of that character and easy recognition that he is, in fact, supposed to be the funny person on stage (though it may frighten small children in the audience).
Additional comedic elements are drawn from the crazed European explorers and maitre d’ that randomly appear onstage, cast members suddenly breaking into kitschy songs involving a chorus of “happy Ephesus” and the rap scene that involves Dromio breaking out with lines such as “they say every why has a wherefore.”
Meanwhile, a witch doctor attempts to exorcise one Antipholus while his servant - a confused goldsmith who runs around yelling furiously, brilliantly resembling the antics of the Wizard of Oz - and Adriana (Chandler Vinton) and Luciana (Marni Penning) engage in viscious battles with kitchen cutlery.
Tying together all of these seemingly disparate elements is a clock at the upper left of the stage frame. Roughly oval in shape and garishly painted, the clock tracks the hours of the day until Egeon’s execution, occasionally turning backwards and finally, in that climatic moment when the two sets of twins are revealed, jettisoning its springs in the fashion of “Alice and Wonderland.”
But despite the randomness, both that inherent within the lines of the play and that added for comedic effect by the Shakespeare Theatre Company, this play masterfully weaves together multiple parallel plots in a manner that engages the audience. It absolutely prevents the second act drowsiness that so often follows intermission. Fast paced, humorous and superbly acted, “A Comedy of Errors” is a masterful performance of a classic play. Absolutely recommended before going home for the holidays!