Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Shakespeare Theatre Opens 2008 Season with
The back story is conveyed in an extremely long, not quite lucidly delivered expository monologue by Egeon, a merchant from Syracuse. Egeon has come to Ephesus from Syracuse in search of his wife and the one of his identical twin sons from whom he was separated during a ship wreck years earlier. His other son, whom he has raised, is separately searching for his brother. The latter is accompanied by his slave attendant, who was also separated from his identical twin in the ship wreck. His brother was slave-attendant to the lost son of Egeon. Having adapted their missing brothers' names, Antipholus of Syracuse and his attendant, Dromio of Syracuse, arrive in Ephesus. Unbeknownst to them, their brothers, Antipholus of Ephesus and Dromio of Ephesus, are resident here.
Adriana, wife to Antipholus of Ephesus, mistakes his twin from Syracuse for her husband and drags him home for dinner. Her sister Luciana is upset by the seemingly inappropriate attentions that she receives from the man she misperceives to be her brother-in-law. Repeatedly, each twin mistakes his master or attendant for the twin brother of his master or attendant. One result is that a gold chain purchased by Antipholus of Ephesus for Adriana is mistakenly delivered to his twin from Syracuse. All of the conflicts are ultimately easily and happily resolved as there is no bad or immoral behavior, only misperception.
Costumed identically, the two Antipholi (and the two Dromios) are plausibly close enough look-alikes to allow us to suspend disbelief. In fact, I'll sheepishly admit there were moments when I lost track of which Dromio I was watching. Christian Conn as Antipholus of Syracuse combines a fine comic touch with a smooth and fluent reading of the text. His hapless conclusion that the people of Ephesus were under a spell is portrayed in a delightfully incredulous manner. Derek Wilson is most amusing as the apoplectic, put-upon Antipholus of Ephesus. Nick Cordileone as Dromio of Syracuse and Greg Jackson as Dromio of Ephesus, each delivers a fine comic performance. However, I did not perceive any specific touches which might make one distinctive from the other.
Julia Coffey displayed style and verve as Luciana, Adriana's sister who becomes the object of the ardor of the Antipholus who is not her sister's husband. It is her performance which most captures the tone of modernity to which director Stephen Fried aspires. Melissa Condren is satisfactory, but not fully at ease as Adriana.
A solid, hard working supporting cast is on hand. Richard Bourg deserves credit for getting through Egeon's most difficult expository monologue with his dignity intact. John Ahlin as the goldsmith, Frank Copeland as another merchant, and the late appearing Mary Dierson as the Abbess are particularly amusing. James Michael Reilly gets the opportunity to display his broad range playing two roles: the solemn and dignified Duke of Ephesus, and the foolish Dr. Pinch. In the latter role, Reilly draws the biggest laughs of the evening as a most broadly comic, clown-like conjurer.
Making the setting a contemporary one is a distraction. I was not quite certain of the production's location. As I watched Wilson Chin's principal set, which appears to be a crumbling square, my first thought was that it looked like an American urban slum. Then I thought that it might represent today's Turkish city of Ephesus (I really don't know whether signs in English would predominate there). When the set for Antipholus' house opened to reveal a plethora of modern framed family photos, I saw a tastelessly furnished generic American working class home. I then observed that the attractive costumes by Alixandra Gage Englund resembled the mix that you might find in a modern Muslim country such as Turkey. However, without anything specific to indicate a new location, it must be assumed the setting remains Greek, as the Ephesus and Syracuse (on the island of Sicily) of this play are Greek city-states.
The Comedy of Errors was one of Shakespeare's earliest plays. It has been referred to as an "apprentice play." It contains neither sub-text nor character portrayals with any dimension, and ignores the serious underlying issues which frame the lives of its protagonists. The Comedy of Errors is purely farce, and director Stephen Fried and his cast have plunged in full speed ahead with largely satisfying results.
The Comedy Of Errors continues performances (Tuesday-Wednesday 7:30 p.m./ Thursday-Saturday 8 p.m./ Saturday-Sunday 2 p.m./ Sunday 7 p.m.) through May 28, 2008 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600, online www.shakespeareNJ.org.
The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare; directed by Stephen Fried