BWW Review: THE COMEDY OF ERRORS at Hartford Stage
A lot can change in 500 years. Our world (and worldview) is so different than our ancestors who lived that long ago. But one thing that is as true in 2017 as it was back in the 16th century, is that audiences love a good comedy. And that is why William Shakespeare's THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, now playing at Hartford Stage, still works, still gets laughs, and still ultimately entertains almost 500 years since its debut.
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, one of Shakespeare's earliest plays is one of his shortest and considered one of his most farcical comedies. The story begins with a Syracusean merchant, Aegon (played by Noble Shropshire) who has been apprehended in Ephesus for breaking a law that prevents anyone from Syracuse from setting foot in Ephesus. He is given one day to raise the 1000 marks required to purchase his freedom (and his life) and thus sets off a madcap series of misadventures for the people of the town. Unbeknownst to Aegon, his twin sons (both named Antipholus) and their twin servants (both named Dromio) are also in Ephesus. They have come, by chance, to be in the same locale for the first time since being separated at birth. One set (Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus played by Ryan-James Hatanaka and Matthew Macca) reside there with Antipholus's wife, Adriana (Jolly Abraham) and her sister Luciana (Mahira Kakkar). The other set (Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse played by Tyler Lansing Weaks and Alan Schmuckler) have arrived in town and, as one might expect, create a series of misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and slapstick situations that end up with beatings, an arrest, and even a case of alleged demonic possession.
In the staging of THE COMEDY OF ERRORS at Hartford Stage, Director and Set Designer Darko Tresnjak (who also serves as Artistic Director) has placed the action of Shakespeare's comedy on a "sun-kissed island off the coast of Greece in 1965." By making such a specific choice as to setting and time period, Tresnjak uses a vibrant palette of colors, scenes, and sounds to set the mood and provide a brilliant backdrop for the action to unfold. And this setting really works well. The first thing you notice walking into the theater is the magnificent and iconic white and blue buildings, blue sky and sea, and accents in soft pastels. When the action starts and the Courtesan (Paula Leggett Chase) descends the staircase in red silk and sings a multi-lingual song from the 1960's, she immediately captures the tone for the evening, while being accompanied by two musicians (Louis Tucci and Alexander Sovoronsky - who also composed, arranged and music directed for the production) who also serve (sometimes to hilarious result) as the source of the wacky sound-effects for the evening.
What works so well about this production is it really doubles down on the period and setting and milks it for all it is worth. Audiences are given scenic interludes that feature popular songs from the 1960's and dancing beachgoers straight out of a Frankie Avalon movie. These musical moments remind audiences that they are having fun and though the action may be getting tense, it is sure to work itself out sooner or later. The performances are also extremely strong. Both Antipholuses (Hatanaka and Weaks) convey a confused, yet slightly pompous master while the Dromios (Macca and Schmuckler) provide most of the physical comedy. As Adriana, Ms. Abraham goes from hilariously drunk to apoplectic over the course of the evening and as her sister Luciana, Ms. Kakkar is a level-headed confidant who turns into a blossoming vixen over the course of the play.
There are a number of memorable scenes in THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, but the highlight of the evening for me was the scene where Dr. Pinch (played by Michael Elich who also plays, with steely resolve, the Duke of Ephesus) in Beatle-wig and trippy umbrella, hypnotizes Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus and the entire cast performs a brilliant Bollywood dance number. It was unexpected, but worked so well and received raucous applause. Hats off to choreographer Peggy Hickey for her spot-on homage to big Bollywood blockbusters.
In terms of the rest of the creative team, Fabio Tablini's costumes are perfect for the period and display the brilliant colors and fabrics one would expect from this tropical locale. Jane Shaw's sound design and Matthew Richards' lighting provide the colorful vistas and sounds from the shore that help fully set the scene.
All in all, Hartford Stage's THE COMEDY OF ERRORS is great fun. It is Shakespeare, so unless you are a Shakespeare scholar, you are bound to miss some of the phrasing and dialogue, but in this setting that is really ok. The cast tells the story using all of the tools available to them, so it is easy to understand what is happening, even if you miss a line or two. But do come prepared to smile, for it is, indeed, a comedy (with a fart joke, even!) but it is also a beautifully staged and thrilling piece that puts a smile on your face and a song in your heart.
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS runs at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through February 12th. Hartford Stage is located at 50 Church Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Wednesday matinee at 2:00 p.m. on January 25 only. For more information call 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.com
Middle Photo: Matthew Macca and Ryan-James Hatanaka
Bottom Photo: The Cast of The Comedy of Errors