The scene was set with sheets and cardboard meant to look like old Greek buildings. Like almost all Fringe shows, this was low budget, but unlike most shows in the festival, it looked cheap. The visual setting was difficult to determine with the odd mix between classical and contemporary – the production was supposedly set on a cruise ship, yet the shipwreck portrayed onstage was definitely old-world. The potpourri of looks continued to confuse with twangy classical music meshing with supporting characters dressed as Starbucks baristas.
Pallas Theatre’s biggest conceptual leap, however, was to cast the two sets of twins – two men named Antipholus and two servants named Dromio – as one actor each. This interpretation of The Comedy of Errors was great for lead actors Michael Boynton and Kelsey Painter to showcase their range, but a terrible choice for audiences. When it came time for “the big reveal” and the characters finally realized it was a case of mistaken identity, any merit behind this choice was damaged. The conceit was supposed to “be doubling and troubling the way we think about self,” but didn’t make much sense in the context of the play.
Boynton and Painter make their best efforts with the challenge. Admittedly, doing double duty as an actor is rough. Painter, particularly, gave a fleshed-out portrayal of both Dromios, perfectly cast as the archetype of the clever servant. Her protestations against being beaten are among the best moments of the show. The supporting cast didn’t help much, with many unmemorable and flat.
Additionally, director Tracey Elaine Chessum didn’t challenge the large thrust space of the Milton Theatre. Sitting on the sides made for a rough experience, and there were some actors whose face I didn’t see for the entirety of the production. For a farce, the movement on stage felt less slapstick and more sloppy.
Not that the audience didn’t enjoy themselves. There were some amused chuckles, but not many full-fledged roars. The Comedy of Mirrors got a large team together and that coordination deserves praise, but their perplexing ideas of this famous Shakespearean work make for a muddled production. In this case, there were more errors than comedy.
The Comedy of Mirrors has 5 performances, ending July 29, 2012, at Studio Theatre’s Milton Theatre, 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets