Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Comedy of Errors
Great River Shakespeare Festival
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Richard III and Idiot's Delight

Caroline Amos, Christopher Peltier, Andrew Carlson,
and Tarah Flanagan

Photo by Dan Norman
Great River Shakespeare Festival's production of The Comedy of Errors is a total lark, as giddy and funny and slap-happy refreshing as a child running through a lawn sprinkler on a hot summer day. The plot is based on two sets of identical twins—one pair of highborn brothers, the other pair their servants—separated at birth. In adulthood, their paths at last cross, with ensuing mistaken identities, confusions in love and business, near arrests, and other forms of hilarity. Try as hard as you can, but it is unlikely that you will come up with any deeper meaning to The Comedy of Errors than the benefits of a good spell of laughter. It is the shortest of Shakespeare's comedies, but that only means the abundant laughs come with greater rapidity.

The far-fetched plot has Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse, his wife Amelia, their infant twins, both called Antipholus, and the infant twins purchased from their impoverished mother, both named Dromio, travelling by sea. When a terrible storm tears their ship apart, one pair of Antipholus and Dromio, after landing in Corinth, end up as citizens of Ephesus; the other Antipholus and Dromio, with their father, return to Syracuse; and their mother is thought to have perished. The infants all grown, the pair in Syracuse take leave from their father and go in search of their brothers. When they fail to return, their father, distraught at losing first one pair and now another, goes off to find them, landing in Ephesus. There he is sentenced to death, for no person from Syracuse is permitted to enter Ephesus, unless he is able to pay a fine of one thousand coins, an exorbitant sum. Why is this the law? No one says, and who cares? In a romp like this, you just go along with things.

And are we surprised that Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse also wind up in Ephesus? Of course not. Only, they are not fined as Syracusians, because everyone who sees them assumes they are Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus. That includes Antipholus of Ephesus' wife, Adriana, sister-in-law Luciana, and their fearsome kitchen maid Nell, who has a powerful crush on Dromio. There is also the goldsmith to whom Antipholus of Ephesus owes money for a gold chain. There is also the questionably competent Dr. Pinch, who is consulted to assess Antipholus' sudden dual personality, as well as the Abbess and the Duke of Ephesus, whose wise consuls are put to the test. If this is getting confusing and hard to follow, fear not. Great River Shakespeare Festival productions excel at clarifying the most convoluted of storylines.

The humor is low-ball, but always tasteful and with the abundant wit one expects of Shakespeare. While the Bard has done his share of the work, this production, directed by Melissa Rain Anderson, polishes the material to a bright shine. The setting and costumes, the use of music, and the style of performance all underscore the point that we are here for a great time, and nothing more. To be honest, seeing this production in the evening after a matinee of Richard III, the broad humor could have been more welcome.

Shakespeare set the story in ancient Greece, but Anderson has given it a 1920s look, albeit with anachronistic-looking gear for several actors who portray "gypsies," and for the twin servant Dromios fanciful clown costumes, with diamond patterned pantaloons, checkered shirts with striped sleeves, goofy derby hats, and hugely oversized shoes, their faces hidden beneath white clown make-up. These two male characters are played by two female actors, Caroline Amos and Tarah Flanagan, who both prove to be first rate clowns, especially mining those huge shoes for every morsel of fun.

The two Antipholuses, Andrew Carlson and Christopher Peltier, are also dandy, each with certain common traits (We have read those "twin studies", about twins separated from birth, yet having so much in common, right? Shakespeare must have read them too.), but also with differences: Peltier's Antipholus of Ephesus has a touch of the rogue, Carlson as his twin from Syracuse is a bit more of a Dandy. Stephanie Lambourn is tremendous fun as the put-upon, frustrated Adriana, and Katie LeSuer is delightful as her sister Luciana. Chris Mixon draws hearty laughs playing the kitchen maid Nell in atrocious drag. The entire ensemble steps up nicely, playing each part with the quick timing and light touch called for.

The set is a simple affair, with enough doors, entryways and windows to satisfy the farcical needs of the play, and a ring of bistro tables around the rim of the stage. A huge moon with a palm tree silhouetted in its light smiles over the entire affair. Devon Painter's costume designs are delightful, and Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz's lighting design maintains the carnival atmosphere, with lanterns that descend to make night shine as brightly as day. Musical numbers are inserted to add to the '20s vibe—though one song used prominently, Cy Colman and Carolyn Leigh's "Witchcraft," was written in the 1957, it can pass for a 1920s torch song and it is sung by Maya Jackson, playing a courtesan, in smoky chanteuse style.

The Comedy of Errors will not prove to anyone that Shakespeare had mastery over deep and timeless ideas, probing inquiries into the meaning of our lives and how best to live them. What it does prove, oh so well, is that he knew how to spin uproarious situations into hearty and good-natured laughter, finding the fun in human foibles without having to be mean-spirited or coarse. Great River Shakespeare Festival takes has mounted this most agreeable work with admiration for the Bard's craft, respect for the audience's intelligence, and joy in the magic of theater.

The Comedy of Errors in Season 14 of the Great River Shakespeare Festival continues through July 30, 2017, at the Performing Arts Center of Winona State University, 450 Johnson Street Winona, MN. Tickets: $39.00 - $49.00; General Seating (reserves a ticket but not a specific seat) - $25.00; Students - $15.00. Discount Pass for all three mainstage shows area available. For performance and other event schedules and tickets call 507-474-7900 or go to

Writer: William Shakespeare; Director: Melissa Rain Anderson; Choreographer: Katie LeSuer; Scenic Design: R. Eric Stone; Lighting Design: Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz; Costume Design: Devon Painter; Sound Design: Katherine Horowitz; Props Supervisor: Connor M. McEvoy; Text Coach: Jess Shoemaker; Musical Arrangements: Silas Sellnow and Duncan McIntyre; Production Manager: Joseph Millett; Stage Manager: Daniel Munson Assistant Director: Gaby Rodriguez; Assistant Stage Manager: Victoria Esquibel.

Cast: Caroline Amos (Dromio of Ephesus), Benjamin Boucvalt (Angelo, a Goldsmith/Gypsy), Andrew Carlson (Antipholus of Syracuse), Michael Fitzpatrick (Egeon, Merchant of Syracuse), Tarah Flanagan (Dromio of Syracuse), Christopher Gerson (Solinus, Duke of Ephesus), Alex Givens (Officer/Gypsy), Maya Jackson (Courtesan), Stephanie Lambourn (Adriana, Wife of Antipholus of Ephesus), Katie LeSuer (Luciana, Adriana's Sister), Melissa Maxwell (Amelia, an Abbess), Duncan McIntyre (Jailer), Chris Mixon (Nell, a kitchen maid/Dr. Pinch), Christopher Peltier (Antipholus of Ephesus), James Queen (Gypsy), Silas Sellnow (Balthasar/Gypsy), Jason Michael Spelbring (Merchant),