Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

By Joe Straw

Variety is a sweet source of inspiration.

I was backstage at the opening night of Sugar Babies with Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller at the Pantages in 1979. The show featured a wonderful fan dancing routine that highlighted the dance life of Sally Rand who incidentally started her career in the 1920’s.

Sally was there that night and, wanting to be the center of attention, she motioned for someone to get her something near the wings. Suddenly she flipped off her loosely fitting gown. Underneath, she had on a pair of see-through white tights and nothing else.

Handed two large fans, she extended her arms—one far to her extreme right and the other far to her extreme left, covering, nothing.

The press gathered around to take pictures. But the gravitational pull on the upper part of her body was not kind to her aging body. One might say gravity was winning the war so much that the newspaper photographers, suggesting that their readers were of the "family" variety, asked her to place the fans in front of her.

She scoffed indignantly but whipped the fans in place with an elegance known only to her. And then she rolled those fans perfectly in front of her nude body.

Since then, I have had a fondness for fan dancers.

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare at A Noise Within and directed by Michael Michetti starts with a spotlight on the fan dancers who introduce the characters in a fashion of frivolity and amusement.

Wow! What an opening! Set in the roaring twenties, the show plays as a vaudevillian act, which was quite amusing! The purpose was to enlighten and inform so there’s not a lot of guesswork concerning the characters. And it also creates Shakespeare in a form the audience can understand, so simple, so touchable, and so within our grasp.

This production of Comedy of Errors is a fascinating, on the edge-of-your-seat, wild ride. It is a cohesive and tremendous ensemble of wonderful actors in a marvelous character driven show.

The opening is very imaginative, with a film reel to boot by Ali Murtaza, describing an unfortunate accident many years ago on the separation of twins. It was so cleverly done one can hardly keep to one’s seat.

Briefly, Egeon wonderfully played by Michael Stone Forrest is sentenced to die because he is in Ephesus and Syaracucians merchants are not allowed to be there. He will die unless he can come up with a thousands marks. He recounts his sad tale of his predicament about two sets of twins lost in a storm to Duke Solinus (William Dennis Hunt) who takes pity but gives him a time frame with which to secure the funds for his release. Shackled, he is led away. (In this condition, how in the world is he to secure the funds?)

Okay, so, we have two sets of twins, Antiphelus of Syracuse and Ephesus, played by Bruce Turk, and Dromio of Syracuse and Ephesus, played by Jerry Kernion. Of course they are separated and come back as different twins in a comedy of errors. Simple enough.

There is a slight caveat in the focus of Michael Michetti’s direction. Comedy of Errors is a play and not a vaudevillian production, but that aside, in order for this production to completely work the relationship between Dromio and Antiphelus requires the relationship to be spot on. Forget the pratfalls, the straw-hat business, and other things that don’t move the story along, rather focus on the relationship of master/slave so the story falls into place. It is critical for the comedy of errors to work and once the audience completely buys the relationship and their predicament the rest of the ride is downhill from there. But this is one minor objection in this wonderful production.

Bruce Turk, as Antipholus of Syracuse/Ephesus was charming throughout. A master when he wants to be and an exasperated being at other times make his performance all the more enjoyable. An objective that is slightly more focused would only add to his marvelous performance.

Jerry Kernion, as Dromio, came out at curtain call with an expression on his face suggesting not everything worked this opening night. But one guesses the audience will tell him what works and what doesn’t and he will fill the role gracefully as the production continues. Not to discard his performance as there were a lot of funny moments in this role. Keep the baby but throw out the bathwater.

Abby Craden, as Adriana, fills the role rather nicely. But one couldn’t help think there is more to this role in a vaudevillian setting than what was witnessed. She obviously wants her man, on her terms. But, are there more inspired ways to go about getting it?

Annie Abrams as Luciana is very charming and delightful in many ways. Certainly there are more ways to sooth the angry cat, Adriana.

Michael Stone Forrest is a standout as Egeo. Ready to truckle to the blade of the gentlemen’s gallows but delays his fate with a nice life saving protracted story of his life. Nicely done.

Gibby Brand as Nell/Abbess is charming in this gender bending turn. He is amusing and as lustful as one can be in the character’s pursuit for a substitute for marital happiness. Nicely done and a wonderful performance.

William Dennis Hunt as Duke Salinus always delights and is unfaltering in his commitment to lay down the law of the land. He pays wonderful attention to details and commands his minions to perfection.

Paul D. Masterson as Balthasar with a less than spectacular posture moved about the stage as though he were missing a number of discs in his spinal column. Not able to get the girl he fights for his money.

P.J. Ochlan as Angelo was absolutely incredible. A multi faux linguistic proprietor of words and dressed as an Italian sailor with eyes as slits and brows that drooped to his knees. This was a funny and inspired performance.

Rene Ruiz as the 1st Merchant with his dummy was quite charming. One especially likes the dummy calling for “line”.

Andrew Dits does a nice turn as an officer of the court. A circus strongman with the ability, at a moment’s notice, to cut off the head that doesn’t feed him.

Lauren Robyn as the Courtesan was charming in the roll. She has a very strong voice, a compelling commitment to character, and a doer of good deeds. One cannot help but to enjoy the performance of the lead fan dancer.

Also filling out the roles were Andy Stokan, Christine Breihan, Douglas Rory Milliron, Gwenmarie White and Sarah-lucy Hill. These players were completely in tune with this production and each gave more than 100 percent in this successful production.

Film Director Ali Murtaza does a remarkable job in giving us a back-story. Scenic Design by Kurt Boetcher also remarkable in his ability to capture the look of vaudeville. David Bickford as the Pianist/Composer/Sound Designer also did a wonderful job in this production. One particularly likes the noise for “da chain”.

One can go to A Noise Within and be captivated by the attention to details on all of their productions. The work is remarkable and the theatre is good for the community and great for all of those who want to be enlightened.

Run to see this performance!

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