BWW Reviews: THE COMEDY OF ERRORS at Oregon Shakespeare Festival
The throw-everything-against-the-wall-and-pray-for-laughs approach to low comedy is a staple of live theater, and certainly, of William Shakespeare's plays. None play would seem to invite a shtick-fest - beg for one even - than the hugely ridiculous THE COMEDY OF ERRORS. At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, alas, Kent Gash's free-for-all staging of Errors exposes the play's lameness rather than celebrates its lunacy. For ninety non-breezy minutes, every actor on that stage is mugging (or frugging) his or her collective buns off. Some of the players are quite deft and, indeed, the production has its share of laughs. Too often, though, the jokes don't land, the pace slows and the endeavor is dead in the water.
Gash may well have something more dramatically thought-provoking in mind when he set the play in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. Harlem's gates appear to be open to all comers...except those who hail from New Orleans. And wouldn't you know it! That's precisely from whence Egeon (played by Tyrone Wilson) and, separately Antipholus of Louisiana (Tobie Windham) and servant Dromio (Rodney Gardiner) hail!
The historical overlay looks promising in the production's opening few minutes when - after a scene-establishing bevy of sirens and a procession of cops - Egeon recounts the tale of how his twin sons and their twin Dromios were separated by a storm. Egeon's tale is accompanied by an elegant set of projections (designed by Shawn Duan) showing images of plantations, maps and sea voyages evoking the Great Migration. The storm itself makes for a cool effect with Dawn Chiang's lighting becoming an ocean that threatens to drown Egeon mid-tale.
But unless you count the vaguely mournful tunes of a strolling abbess, that's about it for poignancy or evocation of weightier matters. Once the good Harlemites start mistaking the Dromios and Antipholi for each other, the default is full-throttle zany-ness and jokes jack-hammered into submission. Case in point: a little bell that accompanies every mention of the word "chain" earns a few yuks and is incorporated into various actors' shtick bits. By the 75th ding and accompanying quizzical stare, school is very much out.
Windham and Gardiner are effective as both sets of twins. Windham's rage and feistiness edge toward comedy rather than genuine anger (which, in this production, is probably a good thing). He smoothly works a sequence that has him handcuffed both to a chair and to a luckless constable. Gardiner is equally nimble, and has a very nice slapsticky sequence leaping around and atop a table, while trying to avoid Harlem Antipholus's wife Adriana (Omoze Idehenre). Playing both a silent butler and a jailer, OSF veteran Mark Murphey is perhaps the only member of the "Errors" ensemble who doesn't have to labor for his laughs. Kudos for that. Also largely in control of his mayhem quotient is Ramiz Monsef playing Angelo, the money-owing, chain-fashioning ("ding") goldsmith.
Idehenre's Adriana comes across more deranged than love-starved while her too obedient sister Luciana (Monique Robinson) also has her share of jittery moments. Pinch the Conjurer who Adriana enlists to exorcise "mad" Antipholus is played not as a buffoon, but as a dangerous witch doctor by Mildred Ruiz-Sapp.
Watching the production, you sense that Gash and his ensemble are working their guts out trying to keep things rolling and entertaining, from the first entrance of Duke Solonius (R.J. Foster, dressed in pimp regalia) down to a celebratory - if pointless - show-ending dance. The technical elements are across the board handsome and there are, as previously noted, many jokes that land.
Still, a calmer, less frenetic show would have made the endeavor, if not error-free, certainly a more pleasant sit.
Photo Credit: Jenny Graham