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A CurtainUp Review
The Comedy of Errors
An adaptation of Plautus' Menaechmi, the plot of The Comedy of Errors is a mashup of mistaken identities. No need to go into details, except to note that long ago a shipwreck separated well-born twins, Antipholus of Syracuse (Jonathan C. Kaplan) and Antipholus of Ephesus (Jason McDowell-Green), as well as their twin servants, Dromio of Syracuse (John Skelley) and Dromio of Ephesus (Stephen Pilkinton). A funny thing happens 33 years later when the Syracusan Antipholus and Dromio arrive in Ephesus, where the citizens mistake them for their twin brothers.
In this production, the thin plot and thinner characters succeed because of the spot-on physical comedy. Shakespeare's text remains intact, but the real emphasis is on the slapstick humor and goofy hijinks. Much of the comic technique, of course, resonates with Chaplin's antics in classic films like City Lights, The Gold Rush and Modern Times. And not surprisingly, the evening belongs almost as much to Chaplin as to Shakespeare.
Naturally, one of the big challenges to staging The Comedy of Errors is finding actors who can credibly impersonate the Antipholus' twins and their go-fers. In this production, the physical dilemma is resolved through Candice Donnelly's eye-catching costumes, which allow the quartet of actors playing the twins to be identically dressed. It helps, of course, that the Antipholus and Dromio twins aren't performing on stage simultaneously — that is, until the reunion scene at play's end, when everybody comes face-to-face. But let's not forget that this is a play, and suspending one's disbelief is a genuine part of the theatrical magic.
Neil Patel's minimalist set design is a bit bland, but it does cleverly accommodate the fast-paced action and the locality shifts in Ephesus. Patel avoids laborious scene changes by utilizing three moveable curtains suspended across the stage. While I have seen more innovative sets for this play (Propeller's recent production at BAM's Harvey Theatre was far more elaborate set), but Patel's design is admirable for its simple lines and sheer efficiency.
The acting is generally solid. Jonathan C. Kaplan, as Antipholus of Syracuse, has his comic timing down pat. Jason McDowell-Green, as Antipholus of Ephesus, becomes more hilarious as the evening proceeds. John Skelley and Stephen Pilkington, are well-cast as the long-suffering clowns named Dromio. And Kaliswa Brewster, as Abbess is deliciously divine. Though Whitney Hudson, as Adrianna, doesn't possess much physical agility, she compensates with her facial expressiveness and Shakespearean chops.
Theatergoers who have shrugged off this play in the past as low comedy (and it is a farce!) will likely enjoy this Chaplinesque version of The Comedy of Errors for its buoyant physical comedy. What's more, The Acting Company (here in association with the Guthrie Theater) is all about grooming new talent. You will surely glimpse a few young rising stars on the boards at Pace.