Once upon a time, there were two sets of identical twins: the Antipholus brothers, and their servants, the Dromio brothers. But as fate would have it, each of the sets became separated and the boys sailed off to different ports.
And there the confusion is just beginning. One Antipholus brother and his servant, Dromio, end up in Ephesus. The other Antipholus and the other Dromio land in Syracuse. Neither Antipholus or Dromio knows of his brother's existence. But one day, the Syracuse set comes to Ephesus, where the Antipholus there has established himself as a prominent and respected member of the community. He lives with his faithful but buffoonish servant, the Ephesus-based Dromio, his lovely and pampered wife Adriana, his sister-in-law Luciana and a rotund, lustful kitchenmaid named Nell.
One could not help but be confused in this cluttered landscape, so common in Shakespearean comedies. But what one might not expect are the quirks and modern permutations director Elijah Siegler gives the already zany Comedy of Errors.
The crux of this work is confused identities and the situations that ensue. Audience members themselves will probably be confused for at least the first 10 minutes of the production. The language of the play is initially disconcerting. It takes a while to get used to the Elizabethan diction, and one may get lost in the opening scene while trying to understand what is being said. But the adjustment to the language comes fairly quickly, and is helped by the lively and very physical nature of the acting.
The scene stealers, with their outrageous slapstick and near-perfect timing, are the twin Dromios (Jeremy Blumenthal and Lukas Oberhuber). They dress and behave like wayward, mischievous children in t-shirts, cut-off jeans, and backwards baseball caps. Oberhuber totes a yo-yo, Blumenthal a Koosh toy, and both add to the goofiness of the two players.
Oberhuber and Blumenthal are largely indistinguishable on stage, but that does not detract from the production, as the actors are equally amusing. Oberhuber, however, does steal the funniest scene in the work. He remarks on the globular maid Nell: "I could discern countries upon her." When his master, Antipholus of Syracuse, quizzes him about the location of the Netherlands, he responds in mock-shock, "Oh, master, I did not look so low."
Both Antipholi are confidently played. Jim Marino as the Syracusean brother has greater stage presence and creates a more complex character than Karl Lampley. Lampley, as Antipholus of Ephesus, spends perhaps too much stage time being threatening.
Marino's romancing of the naive and earnest Luciana (Shana N. Alexander) shines as one of the more masterful and controlled scenes in Comedy of Errors. The body language and reactions of both players are convincing, and the scene does not rely on the physical comedy so much of the play does.
Also well-played, though a little stereotypically, is the minor character of Melchior the merchant (Stephen Rosenthal). Rosenthal looks and sounds as if he came straight out of a Brighton Beach kosher deli, and carries a lot of comic weight.
The imprisoned merchant Egeon (Ted Caplow) is also an interesting cast choice on Siegler's part. Caplow looks almost exactly like Dustin Hoffman playing Willy Loman, and the parallels the audience can draw between the two salesmen add an interesting dimension to the work.
This modernized, seemingly low-budget Comedy of Errors, thanks to the cast, can be best described as enthusiastic. The jarringly bad costumes and set certainly do not impress. The outfits look like dress-up clothes found in the back of a closet. The police officers inexplicably look like Hell's Angel rejects and the hookers look like Barbie dolls. Minimalist crepe-paper palm trees and a funky beaded curtain litter the stage. A God-only-knows-why velvet Elvis painting completes the perfect tackiness of the scene in the Leverett Old Library. But the acting is good enough to compensate for all that.
The only real problem with the acting, or more appropriately, with the direction, is a tendency towards too much chaos--it gets a little ridiculous near the end of the play when the entire cast is stampeding across the stage to escape from the knife-wielding Antipholus of Syracuse.
But even the stampedes and tastelessness add, in their own (somewhat annoying) way, to Siegler's calculated confusion. This production is good farce, and a lot of what Shakespearean comedy, modernized or not, should be.