Director Jamie Bruno has appropriately
staged what is arguably the silliest of Shakespeare’s plays as a sort
of Three Stooges extravaganza, shamelessly stealing moves from the
playbook of Curly, Larry and Moe, with a little bit of Shemp thrown in
for good luck. And why not? Shakespeare did a hefty bit of stealing
himself, lifting the plot of The Comedy of Errors from a couple of Roman plays. In turn, Errors has inspired a number of other shows, among them The Boys From Syracuse with its lovely Rodgers and Hart score and badly dated book, and the hip-hop musical The Bomb-itty of Errors, mounted last spring by Syracuse Stage.
Like many of the Bard’s comedies, The Comedy of Errors
begins with a shipwreck. Two sets of infant twins, the sons of the
merchant Egeon and the sons of his slave, are separated in the
confusion. Egeon rescues one of his boys, named Antipholus, and the
slave child Dromio, taking them home to that other Syracuse—the one in
Sicily. The other two, also named Antipholus and Dromio, end up in
Ephesus, where they grow up, somehow maintaining the master-slave
relationship. When the Syracusans show up in Ephesus searching for
their long-lost siblings, they run afoul of the good citizens of that
city—among them the other Antipholus’ formidable wife, Adriana, and her
At Thornden Park, the pre-show
activities take on a Renaissance faire ambience, with actors wandering
about the green enthusiastically working the audience. Once on stage,
the cast throws itself into the play with wild abandon. Even when jokes
occasionally fall flat, the comic bits are executed with such gusto
that all is quickly forgiven. Throw around enough pratfalls,
nose-twisting and ear-pulling, and some of it is bound to stick.
The Antipholi are not the most likable
of Shakespeare’s heroes; they’re just too ready to beat a slave or
visit a courtesan. Basil Allen (as the Syracusan) and Gabriel Infantino
(from Ephesus) do their best to make each Antipholus sympathetic.
Pulling off the neatest trick of the show, they actually manage to look
and act like twins, moving easily between wounded confusion and easy
As presented here, the Dromios are two
sides of a coin. In what is a literal running gag, Matt Nilsen’s Dromio
of Syracuse spends most of his time speeding across the stage and
across the grass. When he stops to catch a breath and land some of the
production’s best gags, he still manages a sunny smile. As the grumpier
Dromio of Ephesus, J. Brazill specializes in the irritated slow burn.
Threatened with mayhem by his boss, he’s not so much fearful of his
master’s wrath as resentful of the effort he has to make to avoid it.
Karis Wiggins’ Adriana is a wife in
comic crisis. Understanding that this is not a role calling for
subtlety, Wiggins squeals in frustration, her hands moving like an
eggbeater, as she pouts, stamps, snorts and sighs with such exquisite
histrionics that she makes us wonder what kind of hilarious hell this
Punch-and-Judy marriage must be. She’s ably set up by Rachelle Clavin
as a comely Luciana, although not enough is made of Antipholus of
Syracuse’s seemingly incestuous advances to her.
The indefatigable Binaifer Dabu makes
the best possible sense of her wacky conjurer Dr. Pinch, which is to
say no sense at all. She’s a delightful barrel of laughs for her five
minutes on stage, reminding us that Errors should be truly
freewheeling fun detached from any redeeming logic. As the hapless
merchant Egeon, Paul Gundersen does yeoman work in the long opening
monologue that lays out the sad situation, making the plot clear enough
for even the many children in attendance. Alan Stillman also gives able
support as the goldsmith Angelo.
Abetted by Karel Blakeley’s simple set
of tie-dyed sheets stretched over scaffolds, director Bruno makes good
use of the amphitheater’s huge stage, which has proved problematic in
previous summers. No problems this year, however. Judging from the
gleeful reactions from Thornden Park’s lawn chair-picnic basket bunch,
the Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of The Comedy of Errors proves that this dog-days program has the makings of an enduring Syracuse (not the one in Sicily) tradition.