Saturday, July 8, 2017

"The Comedy of Errors" by Classical Actors Ensemble at Newell Park

This is my third summer seeing Classical Actors Ensemble's delightful Shakespeare in the Park, and I'm convinced this is how Shakespeare is meant to be seen, at least the comedies. Playful, approachable, bawdy, musical, outdoors, accessible (read: free) to all, and 90 minutes long. The Comedy of Errors is a silly farce of a play and a perfect choice for this annual event. This charming and entertaining cast makes the convoluted story (relatively) easy to follow and the Shakespearean language clear and compelling. Performances continue at parks around the Twin Cities through July 23, and I highly recommend it as a fun outing for all ages, enjoying the best that Minnesota has to offer in terms of summer weather and great theater. The performance is free with no reservations required, just show up with a blanket or lawn chair, and maybe a picnic lunch, and be ready to be entertained.

The Comedy of Errors features typical Shakespearean mistaken identity confusion, times two. Two sets of twins are separated at birth, one set the "master" and the other set hired (bought?) by their parents to be the "servants." One of each ends up with each parent, who are separated, never to meet again. Until 25 years later. Somehow the twins ended up with the same name, so when Antipholus and Dromio arrive in Ephesus, they're instantly mistaken for the Antipholus and Dromio who live there, and can't understand why everyone knows them but they don't know anyone. Even Antipholus' wife is fooled, and is not happy when her husband doesn't want to come home for dinner. Meanwhile, the "real" Antipholus and Dromio are locked out of their own home (because they're already inside) and are exasperated when people start accusing them of things they haven't done. At times the wrong servant approaches the wrong master with something entirely other than what he asked for. Much hijinks and confusion ensue, until after 90 minutes the two pairs meet in a hilarious scene where, after a moment of confusion, all is set right.*

Marci Lucht, Jake Sung-Guk Sullivan, Timothy Daly, and
Nissa Nordland Morgan (photo by Travis Voels)
I'm pretty sure that in this play the two sets of twins are meant to be played by four different actors, at least that's how it was done the last time I saw it. But in this production, one actor (Jake Sung-Guk Sullivan) plays both Antipholuses, and one actor (Timothy Daly) plays both Dromios. A change of hat and accent tells us which twin we're watching, and the scenes with both twins (at the door of Antipholus' house and the conclusion) are quite cleverly done, with both actors nimbly switching from one to the other twin and back again, all within the same scene. Jake plays one Antipholus like a California surfer dude, and the other like an East Coast mobster, while Timothy gives both Dromios a frantic and relentless energy.

the cast of The Comedy of Errors (photo by Travis Voels)
Everyone in the cast (well directed by Marika Proctor) enunciates clearly, easily understood even over the ambient outdoor noise, adding hand gestures and vocal emphasis that make the meaning of the words clear. They teeter on the edge of being too broad, but when the ceiling is as high as the sky there's room for this sort of big acting, and it's really engaging and fun to watch. Besides the twins, other highlights in the cast include Marci Lucht as Antipholus' long-suffering wife, Nissa Nordland Morgan as her supportive sister, Dietrich Poppen as both the Duke and a frightened officer, Peter Simmons as the Antipholus twins' pop, and Thomas Henry, stealing scenes as a courtesan.

Interspersed in the fast and furious action of the play are musical interludes with a sort of retro vibe, beginning with "One is the Loneliest Number" and concluding with "It Takes Two," with some Beatles and other tunes thrown in. The simple set is just a couple of structures serving as a backstage area, and a door with a curtain that is well-utilized for comedic effect.

Classical Actors Ensemble is one of the highlights of the #TCTheater summer season, and The Comedy of Errors falls right in their wheelhouse of fun, playful, accessible Shakespeare, the way it was meant to be. See the schedule here and find a performance near you.

curtain call (photo by Travis Voels)

*Plot summary borrowed from what I wrote about The Acting Company's 2011 production.