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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

The Comedy of Errors at Outdoor Stage: Ideal Summer Entertainment for the Entire Family

Also see Bob's review of The Liar

The Comedy of Errors
Matthew Simpson, Jack Moran and Amanda Duffy
Summer after summer, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has been bringing outstanding family oriented productions of Shakespeare's most popular comedies to its annual Outdoor Stage productions. As this summer's production of the Bard's The Comedy of Errors is inventive and imaginative, lavishly staged, delightfully acted and hilarious. There is little left for a reviewer to do other than to roll out the superlatives.

Most important of the little that is left to do is to remind parents that the plot supporting the underlying shenanigans is more than a bit complicated, and an in home, preliminary familiarizing of younger children with the major characters and the mistaken identity plot is advisable to make certain that none get lost at the get-go.

The setting is the ancient city state of Ephesus. The ruling Duke of Ephesus sentences Egeon of Syracuse to death for violating the ban against travel between the two warring cities. Egeon tells the Duke that he has come to Syracuse to search for his wife and one of his identical twin sons, from whom he and his other son were separated 25 years ago in a shipwreck. Separated along with these twins were another pair of identical twins, each a slave to one of Egeon's sons. Both of Egeon's twin sons are named Antipholus, and each twin slave is named Dromio, for the son and slave who remained with Egeon each adopted the name of his lost twin brother. The Duke, moved by Egeon's story, gives him one day to raise a ransom to save his life. Unbeknownst to Egeon, Antipholus of Syracuse, the twin son whom he raised, and his Dromio (they have been journeying in search of their lost twins), are also now in Ephesus.

We soon discover that Antipholus of Syracuse's missing twin is the prosperous Antipholus of Ephesus. His wife, Adriana, mistakes his twin from Syracuse for her husband and drags him home to dinner. She orders Dromio of Syracuse (whom she thinks is her husband's Dromio) to stand guard at the door and admit no one into the house. Antipholus of Ephesus and his slave Dromio return home only to be refused entry.

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Antipholus of Syracuse is smitten with Luciana, Adriana's sister. Luciana is shocked and stimulated at his attentions which she thinks are inappropriately being directed at her by the man whom she misperceives to be her sister's husband. Repeatedly, each twin mistakes the brother of his master or slave for his own master or slave. As a result, a gold chain purchased by Antipholus of Ephesus for Adriana is, without anyone's knowledge, erroneously delivered to his twin from Syracuse. The mix-ups and complications continue to abound until they all are delightfully, and happily, resolved.

Although the setting nominally remains the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (today it is part of Turkey), the extended, visually entrancing and brilliantly playable set moves The Comedy of Errors to the city of Venice. The rear wall is composed of two enormous travel posters. To our left, the larger of the two posters depicts a wide view of the canals of Venice fronting the façades of classically styled Venetian buildings (although it bears the legend "Greetings from Ephesus"). To our right is a somewhat smaller poster of a less distinctive courtyard on a narrow cosmopolitan street (bearing the legend "Ephesus Welcomes You"). Directly in front is a wooden sidewalk dressed with cafι tables and chairs. It faces out on a complexly designed, strikingly angled wharf area setting which extends over the entire large stage and consists of a series of rounded, artfully decorated wooden bridges, with linking pathways between them passing over (painted, three dimensional canvas) canals. To the front is a wharf in front of which a rowboat sits in the water. When the right moment arrives, the movement of the "water" and its stormy effect on the occupied boat is pure stage magic. There are even further elements to this fantastic set by Charlie Calvert which interact with the performance. It is truly special.

To the delight of its audience, it has become well established that Outdoor Stage Shakespeare comedy is to be played broadly in classic vaudevillian slapstick fashion. Director Jason King Jones wisely sticks to the template, but he does so with the skill of a director who knows and loves the style, and can maximize and extend the laughter and delight inherent in it. In the scene where Dromio of Syracuse bars the Ephesian Antipholus and his entourage from his own home, you will delight in Jones' employment of a free standing door which rotates freely to hilariously depict his struggle from every possible angle.

Perfectly hand in glove with the other production elements are the evocative American vaudeville style costumes by Nancy Leary. With pork pie hats, checked baggy pants, ill fitting, faded jackets, comically short, tastelessly painted ties and Keystone Kop uniforms, Leary visually enhances the comic buffoonery of the males. Even the frilly costumes for Adriana and Luciana have a faded, overly embroidered look.

There is a seventeen-member ensemble, each of whom contributes to the pleasure of this production. In the top banana comedian's role of Dromio of Syracuse, Jack Moran has a delighted and delightful twinkle in his eye and smile on his face which endear him to us as he demonstrates his fine comic skills. Matthew Simpson as his Antipholus has a light hearted, jaunty quality which contributes to the production's airy tone as well as his likeability as the juvenile romantic lead. Allison Layman is particularly three dimensional as Luciana. Layman adroitly balances the humor of Luciana's situation with the hope and fear that it arouses in her. It is a serious counterpoint which enriches the romp that comprises the balance of the evening.

Philip Mutz is delightfully puzzled and nonplussed as Antipholus of Ephesus. Sean Hudock maintains a light comic touch as his put-upon Dromio. In the second banana role of Balthazar, Phillip Christian is especially funny. Christian also ably portrays the Duke of Ephesus. Amanda Duffy downplays the comic rage potential in the role of Adriana. Eileen Glenn is solid as the Abbess who helps unravel the confusion. Matt Sullivan, Jay Leibowitz, Rocio Mendez, and the six members of the Shakespeare Theatre's Professional Training Program (who play various citizens of Ephesus) all make strong contributions to the entertainment.

The running time for the Shakespeare Theatre Outdoor Stage The Comedy of Errors is about an hour and 45 minutes including a 15 minute intermission. It is long and full enough to be a fully satisfying evening in the theatre for adults and, with its intermission, short enough not to overtax the staying power of most youngsters. It is so good that it likely will spark a lifelong interest in theatre and stage literature in some of them.

The Comedy of Errors will continue performances (Evenings: Tuesday-Sunday 8:15 pm / Matinee: Sun. 4:30 pm) through July 29, 2012, at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's Outdoor Stage, 2 Convent Road (at Convent Station), Morris Township, NJ (on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth). Box Office: 973-408-5600; online: www.ShakespeareNJ.org.

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare; directed by Jason King Jones

Cast
Duke of Ephesus/ Balthazar/ Pinch…….Phillip Christian
Egeon/ Second Merchant…………………….Matt Sullivan
Antipholus of Ephesus…………………………..Philip Mutz
Antipholus of Syracuse…………………Matthew Simpson
Dromio of Ephesus……………………………Sean Hudock
Dromio of Syracuse……………………………..Jack Moran
Adriana…………………………………………Amanda Duffy
Luciana………………………………………..Allison Layman
Angelo/ Nell……………………………………..Jay Leibowitz
Courtesan/ First Merchant…………………..Rocio Mendez
Abbess…………………………………………….Eileen Glenn
Citizens of Ephesus………….........Tom Duke, Gabriel Fuentes
……………………………………Andres Pina, Sarah Quigley
……………………………...Gray West, Avery Wigglesworth
Photo: ©Gerry Goodstein


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- Bob Rendell



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