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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

The Comedy of Errors
Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre

Comedy of Errors
Amy-Helene Carlson, Judy Feingold, Caleb Wimble, Daniel Harward, Keith Wallace, Rose Fairley and Brent Knobloch
What a difference a year makes. Last summer, the Classical Acting Academy of the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre presented a vibrant, exciting version of Henry V that was one of the season's highlights. This summer, a new crew of student actors has been recruited, but unfortunately they're stuck in a shockingly bad version of The Comedy of Errors that has more awkward pauses than laughs.

The problem certainly isn't the material. Just a few weeks ago, I was fortunate to catch a delightful, high-spirited production of the same play (since closed) just an hour north of the city at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. The cast there breathed new life into the deliberately ridiculous tale of two sets of identical twins separated in childhood. The story: Antipholus and his servant Dromio have traveled from Syracuse to Ephesus, not knowing that Ephesus is the city where their long-lost twins reside—also named Antipholus and Dromio. It's a situation perfect for mistaken identities. Soon there are complications involving a wife, a gold chain, a rope, and some angry businessmen, all on the way to a happy ending.

But there's not much that's happy about the Classical Acting Academy's production. The cast seems lost, speaking slowly and deliberately, robbing nearly all the lines of humor. Most of the actors seem to have little feel for the rich language, and are either trying too hard to make the audience laugh or not trying at all. The two actors playing the Dromios do some impressive somersaults (for some reason), but all they prove is that there's a difference between being an acrobat and being a clown. Only one performer rises above the mediocrity to make an endearing impression: Amy-Helene Carlson, who has some nice comic moments as Luciana, the sister-in-law to one Antipholus who is romantically pursued by the other. Still, you know a production of The Comedy of Errors is in trouble when the funniest person onstage is Luciana.

Director Rosemary Hay's production is a jumble. Instead of getting laughs from Shakespeare's rich characterizations, this Comedy tries to get them through pratfalls and cartoon sound effects. It all seems sadly desperate. Nothing seems at stake here, so it's hard to care how these characters end up.

Ah, well. Better luck next year.

The Comedy of Errors runs through August 21, 2011, at The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom Street. Tickets are free on a first come, first served basis, available at the Box Office three hours before curtain each day. For more information, call the Box Office at (215) 496-8001 or visit phillyshakespeare.org.

The Comedy of Errors
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Rosemary Hay
Set Design... Alexander Petit Olivieri
Costume Design... Jill Keys
Lighting Design... Ken Jordan
Sound Design... Paul Winnick
Stage Manager... Janelle Caso

Cast:
Antipholus of Ephesus ... Keith Wallace
Antipholus of Syracuse ... Aaron Lofton
Dromio of Syracuse ... Robin Stitt
Dromio of Ephesus ... Daniel Harward
Adriana ... Rose Fairley
Egeon ... James Lepone
Luciana ... Amy-Helene Carson
Courtesan / Abbess ... Judy Feingold
Duchess ... Mary DeCarlo
Luce ... Anat Eshel
Dr. Pinch / Balthasar ... Caleb Wimple
Angelo ... Jason Singer
Waitress ... Sara Group
Officer ... Brent Knobloch


Photo: John Bansemer


-- Tim Dunleavy



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