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St. Louis by Robert Boyd

The Comedy of Errors
Repertory Theater of St. Louis

Also see Bob's review of The Invisible Hand

The cover of the program for The Comedy of Errors, the final show in the 2011-12 season at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis, gives the gimmick away. The well-known portrait of Shakespeare from the Folio edition of his plays is tricked out with a Mardi Gras mask and a bit of a smile. Director Paul Mason Barnes has set the story in "Ephesus, a small town just outside New Orleans" during a Mardi Gras in the mid 1900s, given it a brightly colored (if just the tiniest bit ill-fitting) coat of bluesy-gospelly music, and pulled every last bit of physical comedy out of the script and the setting, creating a high-volume, high-energy romp that leaves the cast looking tickled to death and the audience on their feet.

The Comedy Of Errors, one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, is brimming with his youthful zest for language. Over and over we are reminded that to the Elizabethan gentleman, the point was not so much what one had to say as how wittily one could contrive to say it. And bawdy language, along with brevity, was the soul of Elizabethan wit. If this production has a soft spot, it is in this: the combination of southern dialect and Elizabethan vocabulary is not always conducive to clarity of diction.

By fifteen minutes into the evening, though, the whirlwind of physical comedy has so engulfed the proceedings that we seem to see, as much as hear, what the characters are saying, and from that point on the show is one delightful scene after another, with a lot of visual wit and some pretty nifty musical jokes to go along with the slapstick.

The big cast features standout performances from Evan Fuller and Kurt Hellerich as Luce and Agador, bons vivants in training; from the quartet of Dromios and Antipholuses, Chris Mixon, Doug Scholz-Carlson, Christopher Gerson and Michael Fitzpatrick; and from Tara Flanagan as Adriana, Kate Fonville as her hapless sister Luciana, Shanara Gabrielle as the courtesan, and the inimitable Tina Fabrique, who makes the Abbess sound a whole lot like Ella Fitzgerald. Veteran Lenny Wolpe is wonderful as the woeful Egeon, Jerry Vogel shines as Dr. Pinch, and Walter Hudson is properly grave as the Duke.

This has been a year of great sets at the Rep, and Erik Paulson's stylized New Orleans street corner, with its acres of beautiful "iron work" and nifty faux cobblestones, is among the best of them. The costumes by Margaret E. Weedon are sumptuous, and the lighting by Lonie Rafael Alcaraz is clever and effective. This is the first appearance at the Rep for this technical team, and we hope they will be back often in the future.

In short, with The Comedy Of Errors the Rep has closed the curtain on the 2011-12 season with a grand flourish, leaving us with delightful memories and high hopes for next year. The show will run through April 8; when word gets out, tickets may be hard to come by. For information, call 314 968 4925 or visit www.repstl.org.


-- Robert Boyd

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