I should just start by saying, I am not a fan of The Comedy of Errors. I nearly didn’t go to see it. But I knew my kids would enjoy it–they are in a phase of being quite excited about physical comedy. We were able to get a few homeschool friends to join us for a student matinee at the American Shakespeare Center (one of the ushers said, “You must be with the Funschool group. That sounds…more fun.”). All of the kids enjoyed the show; for all of them except mine, this was their introduction to Shakespeare. I’m glad that this was their way in, at ages 8-12, rather than bludgeoning their way through one of the tragedies as 10th graders. I’m always amazed how many people don’t know that Shakespeare can be funny.
Despite my total lack of interest in this script, I loved this production. This was the most satisfying comedy I have seen at the Blackfriars in years. I often feel that the touring shows, when they come back from their tour, are among the strongest performances one can see at that theater. The company learns on the road, and the actors have time, on such a long contract, to develop precision and depth in the work. More than anything else, the specificity of the play was incredibly enjoyable to watch.
The music selections were enjoyable. Some of them were obvious–“Fat Bottom Girls” and “The Two of Us”–but a few were surprising and delightful, like all the women singing “No Scrubs” (still stuck in my head).
In most–maybe all?–productions of Comedy that I’ve seen, the slapstick bits are limited to the Dromios. In this production, nearly all of the characters had wonderful physical bits. This made the show overall much funnier, and created a more integrated world. The prim Luciana crawling across the stage creates comedy from the juxtaposition of her dress and character with the ridiculousness of her position.
The movement work–both in terms of just how people were moving around on the stage and the particulars of the fight choreography–was inventive, surprising, and delightful. In one scene, a character is looming over the table at another one–and the victim, instead of cowering to the floor, was actually hanging on the bottom of the table, creating a hilarious and gravity-defying stage picture.
In the “rope’s end” beating, the hits were safe, but the fight was fast enough that it looked believable. At the end, the rope wrapped around an Antipholus’ legs and took him down. The work that must have gone into practicing that fight had a huge payoff.
One of my favorite bits was in the scene where Antipholus of Ephesus is locked out of his own house. At the Blackfriars, this is typically played with the people who are “inside” the house being on the balcony, and the people “outside” on the main stage, banging on the frons. Because this was a touring show, they couldn’t depend on the architecture of the Blackfriars. Instead, they had a door flat on wheels. At the beginning of the scene, “inside” the house was upstage of the door, but as the scene progressed, the door flat rotated several times, so that where “inside” was moved on the stage a ton. This was a completely hilarious effect, and a good example of using a design constraint to prompt creativity.
I appreciate the directorial clarity of Desdemona Chiang’s work. She told a clear and unified story, as well as clearly using the talents of her actors. The fight and dance choreographers (Josh Clark, Constance Swain) were members of the company, and their work was so integrated in the fabric of the production, I felt like I could see their collaboration in action.