While not considered one the Bard’s richest works or given the most revelatory treatment, The Comedy of Errors makes for ideal picnic blanket theatre in Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s lively and communal outdoor In-The-Ruins production. Its numerous twists, capers, and broad characters prove a great frame for the company to fill with seemingly every kind of entertainment they can stuff in.
The tale, while simple – with its two long-lost twins both named Antipholus, their identical servants both named Dromio, and the inevitable confusions that result from their encounters – has more range that it appears at first blush, and the company, under director Scott Alan Small, register the changes with varying effectiveness. They give themselves free rein to poke at the audience, pull silly faces, and pour water over themselves during the farcical moments when the wrong twins are running into each other. Then, when Shakespeare’s humor becomes more linguistic, the actors wisely rein it in and let the puns and sly wit do the work.
However, despite some earnest discussion in the program about heavier themes in the play, the company does not follow through when it comes to the question of whether the servants’ frequent beatings can stand as serious commentary. No violence, even of a broadly comical nature, is done to the two Dromios onstage. This becomes distracting, considering how often Dromio of Ephesus in particular refers to the beatings he’s receiving; presumably, these moments were whiffed in order to make the play family-friendly. Whatever social complexity may have been found in the relationships between the masters and servants is thus lost. Some other potential moments of emotional punch are similarly passed over – which, to be clear, is not a terrible choice given the overall thrust of this production, but it is at odds with both the unedited text and the dramaturg’s notes.
Thankfully, the company does not shy away from taking a more serious tack when it comes to the case of the play’s treatment of women. The characters of Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife, Adriana (Mary Myers), and her sister, Luciana (Carson Elizabeth Gregory), are brought to life by letting them tackle their conversations about men’s liberty and women’s desire head-on. This leads to Gregory achieving one of the most complex and moving moments in the play, when she finally crosses paths with the Antipholus who is not, actually, her sister’s husband. Moreover, the women’s later comedic moments are all the funnier for being emotionally grounded.
But let’s put all that aside, because questions about thematic coherence are secondary to the gobs of fun director Small and company want their audience to have – and are clearly having themselves (it’s been a while since I’ve seen such an unabashedly pleased-to-be-here crew of performers). Matthew Ancarrow, as the fish-out-of-water Antipholus of Syracuse, leads the charge into hilarity with an utterly masterful comedic turn. If not for the buckets of sweat pouring off him in the heat, we would have no idea how hard he is working given how smoothly he flows from one finely-tuned overreaction to the next. He sets a high bar for the other players, and they all dance merrily to keep up.
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
June 12 – July 19
PFI Historic Park
3691 Sarah’s Lane
Ellicott City, MD 21043
Thursdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $15 – $38, $60 for a picnic table,
children under 18 attend free with ticketed adult
Details and Tickets
Kelsey Painter, as Dromio of Syracuse, stands out as well for her nimble physicality and likeable connection with the audience; Bobby Henneberg, as the other Dromio, plays across from her well, using his size to play the contrasts for laughs and (almost) making us forget how awkward it is that he’s frequently complaining about being beaten or whipped. Robby Rose, as the other Antipholus, plays a subtler game than Ancarrow (whose role casts a larger shadow) but is no less funny; Myers seems to locate a thousand different shadings of comic outrage in her Adriana; and so on through everyone onstage, up to and including the non-speaking ensemble members.
The actors don’t hoard all the fun for their character work. Led by skilled guitarist Nick Delaney under music director Scott Farquhar, the musical ensemble (composed of all of the members of the cast at one point or another, on voice or instruments) rolls their way through a selection of tunes at times quirky and at times surprisingly appropriate – everything from Meghan Trainor to They Might Be Giants, with an ideally silly cover of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” as the highlight. Add in a recurring nightclub gag, some over-the-top drag, cheerfully anachronistic Starbucks cups, and more… All that together, plus an ice cream or a hot dog in hand, means that what few opportunities were missed on a deeper level pass by as breezily as the wind across the Patapsco ruins, and a very full evening of entertainment is in store for all of us.
Disclosure: I have worked with actor Mary Myers, playing Adriana in this production. This did not affect my review.
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS by William Shakespeare . Directed by Scott Alan Small . Produced by Chesapeake Shakespeare . Reviewed by Brett Abelman.