Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 2001.
This earliest of Shakespeare’s plays is the 2001 offering of Shakespeare & Company’s Summer Performance Institute (SPI). You can count on a great deal of youthful energy from the SPI performers, and this year director Kevin G. Coleman has assembled a particularly energetic all female cast. Their energy level is revved up so high in this farcical, slapstick interpretation of The Comedy of Errors that I wanted to go up on the stage and say, “Now, calm down. Remember, this is Shakespeare…” But frankly there is nothing wrong with a high energy, pie-in-the-face version of this bit of silliness. It is not one of Shakespeare’s great literary efforts, but if is funny as all-get-out and therefore a show particularly accessible to a modern audience. Two pair of identical twins separated at birth who wind up in the same town where everyone, including various wives, mistake them for each other. No one is aware that they are twins and everyone gets terribly mixed up. The two Dromios, who are clown/servant characters, get soundly beaten at every turn with harmless hunks of rubber that make satisfying “thwack” sounds when applied to the human posterior.
At first I was uncomfortably aware that almost everyone on stage was a woman pretending to be a man, but by the end I accepted the maleness of various characters completely and was rather fed up with the shrill antics of the two women who actually were playing women. As Coleman observes in his director’s notes, the play would have been presented by an all-male cast in Shakespeare’s day, as women were not allowed on the stage, and he and the cast had great fun turning Shakespeare’s humor inside out as they cross dressed in the opposite direction.
I particularly enjoyed Anne Latta as Antipholus of Syracuse, and both of the Dromios as played by Valerie Hauss Smith and Alicia Adema. Hauss Smith and Adema were made to look so very much like by trick of make-up costume and matching haircuts that I could have sworn that they were really twins. I liked Kate Whitehead in all of her roles, her cherubic face seeming constantly about to burst into giggles whether it was under a soldier’s helmet or an outrageously out-sized Flying Nun wimple. Jennie Burkhard made me smile as Luciana, but I found Candace Clift’s hysterical Adriana too much to bear. Clift completely lacked comic timing, which made the running gag of her constantly smashing her nose into walls and doors awkward, to say the least. Michelle Frank had fun with her two broadly comic female roles, and the impossibly petite and heavily accented Marzena Bukowska enunciated clearly and gave herself fully to a variety of comic roles. I took Brandon with me, as he had seen and enjoyed an all-male hip-hop version of the show entitled The Bomb-itty of Errors about 18 months ago in New York City. And, sure enough, he just loved all the mistaken identity, thwacking on bottoms, and smashing headlong into doors that went on. I was pleased to see a lot of young people in the audience because this is certainly a performance aimed at a young, hip breed of theatre-goer. I will give the “If you are a Shakespearean purist, don’t go” warning because there are many very silly liberties taken in this lively production. But if you are looking for a fun way to introduce your kids or grandkids to the Bard, by all means get tickets now.
The Shakespeare and Company (413-637-3353) production of The Comedy of Errors runs through September 2 at the Stables Theatre at The Mount, 2 Plunkett Street in Lenox.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2001