BWW Review: APT Stages Marvelous Mad, Mad COMEDY OF ERRORS
Quite refreshing and revitalizing as a summer breeze, American Players Theater (APT) opened their 2016 Up The Hill season in Spring Green with a wild version of William Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors. Directed by the well-known David Frank, this condensed Comedy revisits a slight nod to Lewis Carroll's "The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland." The production plays broadly by quoting Shakespeare's verse with a tongue in cheek delivery also heightened by Victorian costumes designed by Fabio Tablini. The imaginative designer envisioned two Dromios which might resemble Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, clothed in wide striped pants, vivid colored jackets and huge straw hats. The story set amid an Ephesus where square marble columns and a great gate placed on the left Up The Hill stage fashioned by Scenic Designer Nayna Ramey, gives Ephesus a rather dream like quality.
Using this subtle Greek scenery, the setting in the original play, Frank commingles contemporary dialogue with Shakespearean cadences in a production where Adriana could also reflect Carroll's Queen of Hearts through her volatile personality or when she signals the "off with her head" gesture to her servant. Fast, fun and loose, the evening presents this fanciful and farcical tale APT's opening night audience appreciated. Under theatrical shadows reminiscent of the cult film, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," Shakespeare's events unfold in disbelief without explanation or apparent resolution in an otherworldly place similar to what Carroll's Alice dreams of in her own surreal tale.
APT wisely chooses their feminine powerhouses for the dual Dromios in Comedy of Errors--Cristina Panfilio (Syracuse) and Kelsey Brennan (Ephesus) collaborated by demonstrating their superb comedic timing and physical abilities when cross dressing as the male Dromios. Their slight bodies, figures tiny yet fierce, complement the manliness of the twoAntipholus, and allows the actors infectious laughs to inhabit the entire production.
Shakespeare's sisters subjected to the mistaken identities of the twin brothers, Melisa Pereyra's Adriana and Laura Rook's Luciana, complement the bard's sibling rivalry and the two brothers they love. Even Colleen Madden's cameos, first as Luce, a servant, and later playing the Abbess Amelia, evoke humorous touches only capable from an APT veteran. When the Courtesan dressed in a gorgeous scarlet gown appears, in the guise of Rebecca Hurd, her character uses a droll delivery and presence that counterbalances the incomparable feminine energy throughout the evening, and these women center the performance through their immense talents.
Equally worthy, Casey Hoekstra (Syracuse) and Christopher Sheard (Ephesus) resemble the twin Antipholus brothers that catapults the comedy into the mad world territory, where the unimaginable happens. When the pair attempt to find the truth in a day of mistaken identities, their frustrations with these inexplicable circumstances play out on stage. Sheard's Antipholus flings himself on the stage floor in one scene, feigning a tantrum, while Hoekstra woos Luciana. In another cameo role, James Ridge contributes to theatrical madness with an interpretation of Pinch, the putative ecclesiastic, and channels a misguided mystic shaking his healing vapors everywhere.
What magical fun Comedy captures on stage for one entire evening where facial expressions and gestures enhance the over the top humor when Shakespeare says, "What errors drive our eyes and ears amiss?." so the characters ask "Am I on earth, heaven or hell?" similar to that small girl Alice in Carroll's implausible adventures. Or perhaps ponder America considering contemporary and slightly inexplicable election year antics? As a Dromio or Antipholus might conclude, has the entire country gone mad, mired in political and social fantasy or uncertainty?
Additionally in a role acted with emotional resonance perfectly compatible with this memorable and playful Comedy, Brian Mani's Egeon, merchant of Syracuse, pleads for his life and searches for his other twin son first lost at sea several decades ago. Forsaking hope of ever seeing his beloved wife again, who was strapped to the other twin son set apart from him in a storm, he only hopes for the other child to be found. After all the mayhem in the first and second act, Mani's heartfelt response when he discovers his former son, and then his wife, respects Shakespeare's redemptive endings. When the two Dominos discover they are brothers, laughter ripples through the audience so humor becomes the only reasonable manner in which these two twins reconcile their relatively new family status and uncanny situation. What could be more healing and natural than laughter?
Love and family eventually trump Shakespeare's misadventures, as they often do in the real world. This year, these positively ludicrous and heart wrenching events include alligators capturing two year old boys at a fantasy theme park to another mass shooting in an Orlando night club. In a mad world filled with unknowns at every corner and unexpected place, Shakespeare and Carroll regarded these misfortunes with respect, whether encountering a dangerous forest or a fire breathing Jabberwock. Perhaps APT's audiences hope that amid life's madness and uncertainties, mistakes and misconduct, faith, hope and a few happy endings remain alive and well. Endings and lives where humor and love triumph, and become the answers to thriving throughout the next decade.
American Players Theatre presents Williams Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors at the Up The Hill Theatre in Spring Green through the summer. For further information on special events, please call: 608.588.2361 or visit: www.americanplayerstheatre.org.