The Comedy of Errors
Director Scott Ellis understands all of the implications of the word “madcap,” having just come off of Broadway revivals of You Can’t Take It with You and On the Twentieth Century. For Old Globe audiences, Mr. Ellis offers several distractions. First, he’s set the play in 1920s New Orleans, enough of a fairy tale existence to allow for a multitude of colorful characters, including a man in drag (Garth Schilling, better known to New Yorkers as “Miss Vodka Stinger”). Second, he’s made room for a good deal of music, including a marching Dixieland band and audience sing-alongs. Third, he’s cast only two actors as both sets of twins: “It Always Rains in Philadelphia’s” Glenn Howerton as the two Antipholuses (Antipholi?) and The Book of Mormon’s Rory O’Malley as the two Dromios.
To speed things along, Mr. Ellis uses a reduced version of the play, clocking in at 95 minutes with no intermission. A quick check of the run times of other recent productions indicates that performing a fuller (and maybe slower) version of the script takes 45 minutes to an hour more, and includes an intermission. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival produced The Comedy of Errors in 2014 was set in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and also featured a run time of 95 minutes with no intermission. There’s no edition credited, but perhaps it is the one from Oregon.
Of necessity, however, things start slowly with the sad tale of Egeon (Patrick Kerr), describing how twin boys, both gentlemen and slaves, became separated during a storm, one master and slave ending up in Syracuse and the other in Ephesus. Egeon then disappears until the play’s climax, leaving the action to shift to the mix-ups that occur when Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse also land in Ephesus searching for their twins. In the process, they encounter the established lives – and relationships – of their Ephesian counterparts.
Once these elements ramp up they proceed mostly at warp speed. Mr. Howerton plays both versions of Antipholus as stately gentlemen who are just a tad annoyed to find that the directions they have given to their servants have not been fulfilled. Mr. O’Malley plays both Dromios as having more than a little of the impish Puck in him. He kicks up his heels with glee, delighting in asides with audience members and participating in chases that proceed through the outdoor house like so many Keystone Kops.
The band, which marches through with such regularity that it merits an “ad-libbed” gag, covers for the fact that Mr. Howerton and Mr. O’Malley sometimes exit in one place and soon re-enter, perhaps as the other twin, someplace else. For some reason, the instruments in the band carry microphones (Acme Sound Partners did the sound design), and the many musical lines that personify the Dixieland sound at times emerge as a jumble.
Mr. Ellis maintains a steady hand as director: everything moves along well, and no one goes over the top, despite many opportunities to do so. As a result, it took the audience at the performance I saw a little while to start enjoying itself. Once the enjoyment set in, however, it lasted.
Besides the droll Mr. Schilling (who even gets his own song), other standouts in the cast included Megan Dodds as Adriana, wife to the Ephesus Antipholus, Barrett Doss as Luciana, Adriana’s sister, who is wooed by the Syracuse Antipholus, Austin Durant as a crazed conjurer, and Deborah Taylor, an Old Globe Associate Artist, who commands the stage late in the play as she unravels the mystery.
By the way, in case you know this play, yes, Mr. Ellis figures out how to have both Antipholuses and both Dromios on stage in the final scene. And, no, I’m not going to tell you how he does it.
Busy Alexander Dodge created a New Orleans street scene that featured second levels and rotating walls (Mr. Dodge also designed the revival of Kiss Me, Kate that recently closed in one of the Globe’s indoor theatres). He was ably partnered on the lighting design by Philip S. Rosenberg, with whom he worked on the self-same Kiss Me, Kate. Linda Cho designed the colorful Roaring Twenties costumes, with just slight variations for the twins such that if you have a keen eye you might eventually catch which was which by the costumes alone.
The Comedy of Errors provides enough diversion to keep outdoor audiences happy on warm summer evenings, and San Diego’s warmest month is generally September. This production should keep those houses full and jovially laughing.
The Old Globe presents The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare, Directed by Scott Ellis, with Alexander Dodge (Scenic Design), Linda Cho (Costume Design), Philip S. Rosenberg (Lighting Design), Acme Sound Partners (Sound Design), Derek Cannon (Music Director), Ursula Meyer (Voice and Text Coach), Jim Carnahan, CSA (Casting), and Charles Means (Production Stage Manager).
The cast includes: Amy Blackman, Lindsay Brill, Charlotte Bydwell, Lowell Byers, Ally Carey, Megan Dodds, Barrett Doss, Jamal Douglas, Austin Durant, Glenn Howerton, Tyler Kent, Patrick Kerr, Jake Millgard, Makha Mthembu, Rory O’Malley, Daniel Petzold, Garth Schilling, Megan M. Storti, Deborah Taylor, Nathan Whitmer, Patrick Zeller, Derek Cannon, Chaz Cabrera, and Jordan Morita.
Performs Tuesday through Sunday evenings August 16 – September 20, 2015, in the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre on the Old Globe’s campus in San Diego’s Balboa Park. Start times vary as the night sky sets in earlier, be sure to check your performance time. Tickets are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting http://www.theoldglobe.org.