"Comedy of Errors"
Shakespeare on the Sound, Rowayton
Rowayton’s outdoor Shakespeare company, Shakespeare on the Sound, continues to offer a dazzling river setting. As the show gets under way, with light fading in the west and the stage growing progressively brighter, the magic takes over.
Unfortunately, it is not unmitigated magic. This Shakespearean production has its disappointments. For starters, “The Comedy of Errors” is not Shakespeare’s finest hour. This early Shakespearean comedy lacks the strong characterizations and soaring language of his later works. But it is meant to be good fun—fast-moving farce, with all the inherent aspects of that genre.
Essentially “The Comedy of Errors” owes its origins to the Roman writer Plautus, silly plot and all. Two sets of identical twins are lost at sea in infancy. Each set grows up in a different land. (Why are both sets of children are given identical names? Certainly not logical, but a useful plot ploy. Apparently Shakespeare did not worry himself with such niceties in his early career.) In adulthood, Antipholus and his servant Dromio, both of Syracuse, appear in Ephesus, where they are promptly confused with Antipholus and Dromio of that city. There follows a series of wild misunderstandings, a veritable comedy of errors.
Farce calls for slapstick at breakneck tempo, but this production tends to plod along, moving with deliberative steps. Granted that every word is clearly enunciated, every line understandable, a rarity on today’s stage. No doubt director Ezra Barnes (SOS Artistic Director) was reaching out to his young audiences—in fact, to all audiences—assuring their understanding of text. But this worthy motive takes its toll.
Moreover, performances are uneven, running the gamut from excellent to incompetent. The talented Reese Madigan, as Antipholus of Syracuse, gives life to his lines, pouring a range of emotions into his speeches and creating a strong, believable stage presence. Unfortunately, he tends to withdraw, to become a passive onlooker, when others are speaking. Benjamin Pelteson, as his Dromio, is an engaging clown well in command of physical antics and comic timing. Among the women, Antoinette LaVecchia (as the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus) is a knockout, lighting up the stage and actually giving depth to a one-note role. Jeffrey M. Bender, as the Ephesus Antipholus, finally comes into his own in a last speech as pent-up frustrations burst forth.
Others in varying degrees fulfill their roles, but too often dialogue becomes recitations. And the continuing stage business, in which various characters scurry about the stage, fails to create the intended busy city life. Too often the pantomimes are pointless routines. Yet this “Comedy” finally comes through with a strong ending, as all major character converge on stage. But it is a long wait for that saving moment.
Yet the setting is gorgeous—river, park, hillside picnickers, ships at anchor, and, in the midst of it all, the jewel of a stage. And if “The Comedy of Errors” is not Shakespeare on the Sound’s finest hour, there’s always next summer.
-- Irene Backalenick
June 20, 2007