Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Comedy of Errors, Great Lakes Theater Festival

(The colorful sets, costumes and dancing are the strongest parts of The Comedy of Errors.)

Although Shakespeare never wrote “gild the lily” (his actual line from King John is “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily”), the idea is still unassailable: Superfluous ornamentation, especially of a like kind, is a non-starter.

And that’s what we have in the Great Lakes Theater Festival’s production of The Comedy of Errors, William Shakespeare’s broad send-up of switched identities, unfaithful wives, and plenty of butt kicks. Director Charles Fee has cranked the wacky dial up to 11 and set this loosey-goosey romantic comedy amidst the libidinous festivals and carnal dalliances of Rio de Janeiro. The result is an initial (and lasting) overload of surface energy that drowns Will’s already superficial and slapstick storyline.

Dancing and prancing on Russell Metheny’s handsome set, which uses the renovated Hanna Theatre’s three-sectioned elevating stage in inventive ways, the sublimely costumed cast (a nod to costume designer Charlotte Yetman) is in constant motion. And if all we had to care about was Martin Cespedes’ clever choreography, we’d be fine. But then the actors start talking and the problems mount.

Fee uses two actors to play the dual twin roles— Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse, and their servants Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse—borrowing the approach used in the film version of The Boys from Syracuse. And this might work if those two actors were perfectly paired.

Unfortunately, Andrew May (the Antipholi) and Ian Gould (the Dromios) are wrong from the get-go, since they are almost identical physically. One reason Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and Jay and Silent Bob work so well together is that they play off each other’s very different physiques. In this production, May and Gould struggle to be funny in ways that are both individual and different than their acting partner.

May has some nice moments, drawing a clear distinction between his twins and delivering some spot-on Jack Benny takes as his one twin is romanced by the other’s wife. But Gould’s Dromios are adrift, beset by clumsy attempts at physical humor, predictable line readings and an inability to craft one, let alone two, comically vulnerable personas. (Jeffrey C. Hawkins—or, for those who remember the Cleveland Play House years ago, Bob Moak—where are you when we need you?).

As Adriana, wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, Lynn Allison starts at too high a fever pitch of bitchiness and then has nowhere to go with her character, turning her performance into a monotone of caterwauling. And even though David Anthony Smith as Angelo the goldsmith manages to put more passion into the repeated word “chain” than Aretha ever did, it’s too little too late.

Of course, audiences will laugh at this production because there are still plenty of gag lines. But as the casting conceit collapses into a clusterfuck at the end, with stand-ins trying to impersonate a couple of the twins while hiding their faces and weaving in and out of the crowd, it becomes clear that there are more errors in view at the Hanna than comedy.

The Comedy of Errors
Through May 3, produced by the
Great Lakes Theater Festival
at the Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th St.,

No comments: