"The Comedy of Errors"
Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven
The current trend is to give Shakespearean plays unusual formats, with the idea of engaging today’s theatergoers. But along the way directors and others involved have played fast and loose with texts, eras, settings. Shakespeare has been beefed up, stripped-down, modernized, musicalized. It is a process which does not succeed too often, however worthy the intentions.
This time around Yale Repertory Theatre tackles Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Error” imaginatively but with mixed results. This earliest comedy of the playwright is loosely based on a piece by the Roman writer Plautus which deals with two sets of twins. It is a simple farce, replete with mistaken identities and marital mix-ups. Antipholus arrives from Syracuse with his servant Dromio, and both are amazed to be treated in friendly fashion by every one in sight (including a wife). Of course, unknown to them, their twins reside in this town. Do not look for the strong characterizations or insightful monologues or soaring poetry in this early work. It is just meant to be fun.
On the plus side, the Yale production is a mix of oriental spectacle and vaudeville shtick, leaving one dizzy from its heady brew. With everything and every one bathed in a golden light, it gives off an eastern lavishness. Its costumes (brilliantly designed by Alixandra Gage Englund) are a feast for the eyes. Because the play is set in Ephesus, an ancient town in Turkey, director Kenneth Albers accents the Turkish motif. (Granted that this Turkish delight, with its fezzes, turbans and trousers, suggests the Turkey of the Ottoman Empire, not of ancient Greece, but so be it.)
Add to that mix a vaudeville style with plenty of shtick, where characters are constantly bopped on the head, and its best performers have acrobatic skills. Think the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. Also emphasizing the shtick is John Tanner’s original music and sound, performed by the excellent percussionist Rich Dart.
Shtick and spectacle are unlikely bedfellows, but director Albers makes it work—or would, if he had a top-notch cast. Unfortunately, many in the large cast are simply not up to the demands of the piece. With farce, performance is all, and when performers fall flat on their faces (figuratively, not literally), the show does the same.
But Catherine Lynn Davis, as Dromio of Syracuse, gives a physical and verbal performance that never falters and enters into the true spirit of farce. She is a joy to watch, as is both Ted Deasy and Laurie Kennedy. Deasy has a firm, professional grip on his role as Antipholus of Ephesus, and Kennedy is radiant as the Abbess, who unfortunately appears all too briefly. Would that every one in the cast came up to these levels.
In short, an interesting experiment . Very likely Shakespeare would have approved.
-- Irene Backalenick
Feb. 16, 2005