Thursday, October 9, 2008
A cornrow-coiffed Solinus, Duke of Ephesus, rolls onstage high atop a yellow airline staircase, leering, playing sax, sipping a toxic-green cocktail and wearing glam rock gold lamé and platform heels. This vision takes the edge off the first words of Shakespeare-spake by a rope-bound prisoner at the base of the stair: “Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall/ And by the doom of death end woes and all.”
So doth PacRep’s The Comedy of Errors begin, bringing the Bard’s most ludicrous farce into the loving embrace of the 21st century in a season just crying out for lighthearted escape. The antidote to perpetual politicians, soaring prices and crashing stocks is quite simply applied: Pack a succulent picnic, a pleasant intoxicant, a substantial car blanket, a few pillows and a small group of carefree friends, stake out a spot on a rustic bench in the cozy amphitheater of Carmel’s Outdoor Forest Theater, pass out the plates, pour the beverage, cuddle up and prepare to be delighted. PacRep’s The Comedy of Errors is an effervescent creation that speaks Shakespeare’s language faithfully, clearly, melodically, skillfully, but tells his story in a production so physical that it might be just as enjoyable if the audience didn’t speak English at all. Children will love it.
Before the substance of the play begins the entire cast has tumbled onto the cleverly lofty, simple and versatile Rick Ortenblad-designed set to mime a zany little number that establishes the vaudeville-circus theme. It’s entirely appropriate to this first and shortest of Shakespeare’s comedies in which he introduces his favorite plot devices: mistaken identity, arbitrary authority, shrewish wives and scheming harlots, all connected by clever servants who keep the plot moving along.
The theatrical reverence afforded Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories is completely out of place for his comedies– written for the Elizabethan masses with enough sexual innuendo, in-jokes, pratfalls, bathroom humor and physical gags to keep the groundlings from throwing food at the stage. The Comedy of Errors produces almost no memorable lines or quotable moments: This is the great humanist writing for the Marx Brothers, with enough onstage “business” to breeze through a patently ridiculous plot in two 55-minute acts without ever once letting the audience catch its breath.
The story is this: The poor prisoner making ready to be condemned to death by the Duke of Ephesus (a towering Daveed Diggs hamming wildly in sharp contrast with his crisp Elizabethan language) is the pathetic salesman Egeon (PacRep’s ever-steady actor-in-residence Michael D. Jacobs clad in a standard-issue burlesque traveling salesman’s plaid suit), who had years ago been shipwrecked and separated from his wife and identical twin sons and their identical twin servants and was traveling the world looking for them. Both sons, of course, were cleverly named Antipholus and both servants Dromio. Egeon had come to the port city of Ephesus (the set is framed by a giant “Welcome to Ephesus” billboard whose 1940s’ beach resort design is a perfect foil for the sorta-’40s costumes) looking for wife, sons and servants. Unfortunately, the lords of Ephesus and Egeon’s Syracuse are at war and Egeon is condemned to die if he can’t come up with a thousand marks to pay a ransom. Because of his sad tale the Duke takes pity on him and allows him one day to drum up the ransom. Then we forget about him until the end.
Meanwhile, one set of twins, a prosperous Antipholus and his manservant Dromio of Syracuse, arrive in Ephesus. With map in hand and the cheerfully relaxed air of a successful businessman on vacation, Antipholus S. is played with an impressive physical commitment by Cassidy Brown, who manages to retain warm and likable naturalism. His servant Dromio S. is propelled by the deliciously wry clown-and-mime mastery of Christina Vecchiato.
Clues are needed when we discover that Ephesus is home to the other set of twins, Antipholus E. (Stephen Massott) and Dromio E. (Katie O’Bryon), who are of course dressed in costumes identical to those of their newly arrived counterparts. The two live with Antipholus’ heiress wife Adriana (a ferocious fiery Anna Ishida) and her sister Luciana (Sofia Ahmand). Sofia Ahmand’s Luciana is a Betty Boop-voiced stereotype of the good-hearted bimbo in ruffles (with a streak of Melanie Griffith’s Tess McGill smart girl with boobs), a terrific foil to Ishida’s ironclad matriarch.
A tangle of mistaken identities ensues, providing the multitalented cast with ample opportunity to leap onto scooters, spring dangerously at full chase on hidden trampolines and break into impressive juggling acts with whatever’s at hand. It’s a farce of Shakespearian proportions, a brief vacation from a reality of Orwellian proportions.
The Comedy of Errors is at the Outdoor Forest Theater, Mountain View and Santa Rita, Carmel 7:30pm Fridays-Sundays through Oct. 19. $28-$35; discounts for children, seniors, students and military. 622-0100 or www.pacrep.org.