Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

By Joe Straw

I had been after these tickets for months and after each tremendous knock on the door there was no response.  Nothing.  

“Hello?  Joe Straw here.” 

I swear I could almost hear: “Shhh!  He’s out there.  Don’t answer that door!” 

And like Rodney Dangerfield, who gets (got) no respect, I passed the time, out in the cold Santa Monica air, in the rain, with holes in my shoes, waiting patiently for tickets.    

Conspiracies abound.  And waiting in the cold produces irreconcilable thoughts of whys and why not’s.  What was their reason?

The reason must have been the write up for The Merchant of Venice starring F. Murray Abraham.  Could that have been it? It wasn’t that bad (of a review). Was it that bad?  Maybe F. was mad. (Aren’t he and fellow Oscar recipient Dustin, friends?) That’s it.  Maybe the Broads are mad too. Why couldn’t I have said good things about Christen Simon Marabate as Nerissa?

In this town, bad thoughts are forgotten and ill thoughts; spoken to you, flow like water off a duck’s back.  That’s a good thing.  On the other hand, memories linger like a festering sore and some people never forget.   

And then, the call came.  Two tickets, but not together. 

“We’re trying to get you two together.”  (Vanessa and Nina are so wonderful.)

So, we wait.

“Come back at a quarter ‘till.”

We go into the lobby.  This being opening night, the lobby is filled with nicely dressed gentlemen and gentlewomen with big rocks on their fingers.

Then, back to the booth, and lo and behold two tickets together!

The seats are in the balcony, second row from the back.  Still, at The Broad Stage, every seat is a winner and I really can’t wait to see how the Brits do Shakespeare.  Really, after months of waiting, I honestly cannot wait.

Next, a fortunate turn of events. An usher asks if we would like to come down and sit in the second row of the orchestra section.  Quickly I grab my coat and run down the stairs, through nicely dressed ladies (with rocks on their fingers) and greeters in Elizabethan costumes, into the theatre, past another usher and down to the middle section of the second row. 

My date, not beside me now.  I look up and she’s still in the balcony, gathering things, but is on her way down.  

The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage, Dale Franzen—Director, Dustin Hoffman—Chair of the Artistic Advisory Board presents Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare through November 27, 2011 and wonderfully directed by Rebecca Gatward.

Shakespeare by the Brits, bliss.

Comedy of Errors preformed by the Globe Shakespeare Company is like watching a Warner Bros. cartoon performed by a madcap troupe of quick change artists playing multiple roles, who one minute, are one character, and the next second a completely different character.  The characters change from head to toe, except for the face part, which remains fairly constant.  By the end of the play, all of the characters are out of breath, sweat pouring off their bodies, and exhausted from the sheer force of comedy. 

Comedy is not for the weak or infirmed.

To open the show, the actors came though the lobby and down the aisle in costumes accompanied by their own musical instruments.  Multi-tasking. Oh, so this is how they do it in jolly ole England.   

You know The Comedy of Errors but in this write up I think I should talk about the actors and the craft of acting by the British actors. Why rehash a 400-year-old comedy?

Set in the country of Greece (where there’s a comedy of errors going on there, of sorts.) Thus starts the tale of Egeon (Cornelius Booth), a Syracusan who is forbidden in the village of Ephesus. The Duke of Ephesus (Duncan Wisbey) discovers him breaking the law and as such condemns him to die.  (On a personal note:  They’d kill you for anything back then usually in the name of religion, but commerce?)

Fighting for his life, Egeon has a sad story to tell about losing his wife and identical twins in a shipwreck, which now finds him in his current state of unpleasantness.  (There is not a dry eye in the house, except those who have dry eyes.)  The Duke, feeling sorry for Egeon, gives him a day, to raise a ransom, or face an unspeakable execution. Shackled, he goes off to raise the coinage.

Meanwhile Egeon’s sons have survived the shipwreck from long ago and are now in the city. Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse (Bill Buckhurst) and their respective slaves Dromio (Fergal McElherron) don’t know the others are in the town of Ephesus.   

Adriana (Laura Rodgers), wife to Antipholus of Ephesus, mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for her husband.  She drags him off to dinner and asks Dromio to guard the door.  When Adriana’s husband comes home, he is refused entry in his own palace.

First there is a battle of words between Dromio and Antipholus of Ephesus at the revolving door. Then Antipholus of Syracuse falls in love with Luciana (Dana Gartland), Adriana’s sister. 

The revolving door scene is hilarious with actors flying all over the stage. It is one of the many highlights of an evening filled with highlights of mistaken identities, errors in judgments, and futile attempts to collect payment.   

Bill Buckhurst as Antipholus of Syracuse and Ephesus did an admiral job. Dress as a Greek tourist, kind of a geek as the Syracusan, and a man of the world as Antipholus of Ephesus.  His Syracusan seem befuddled while his Ephesus counterpart was angered by his unfortunate’s set of circumstances he finds himself in. Both seemed to suit the character well.  Indeed, the glasses seemed to separate the man from the beast. His performance is hilarious and well executed!

Fergal McElherron as Dromio(s) is a clown with extreme physical gifts.  The Dromio of Ephesus seemed more “rich and bitchy” living in a wealthy enclave and not taking anything from anyone despite the fact he’s a slave. One particularly likes the broken kneecap scene among many others. One also likes his interpretation of an ass, the likes of which I have not witness on this planet.

Cornelius Booth as Egeon was extremely engaging and as he is telling his story of woe one was not convinced this was a comedy in the making, because his interpretation was very dramatic.  Nevertheless, his performance was marvelous.  And as Dr. Pinch he was equally wonderful as a whirling dervish, trying to reach religious estacy, spinning around the room and nearly collapsing from dizziness, while, I suppose he was trying to cast out the devil in Antipholus of Ephesus.   

Cornelius Booth also played the saucy maid with bright red lipstick stirring batter in the kitchen.  But as she was stirring the batter, she was staring at me. (Or so it appeared.) I diverted my eyes, looked back, and she was still staring at me!  I looked away, and then back again, deep dark red puckering lips and eyes staring.  Uncomfortable now.  Sweating, profusely, still staring.  She (he) moved off the stage.  Thank you.

Sometimes comedy can be uncomfortable.

Duncan Wisbey did a nice job playing the Duke and Angelo. There is a moment on stage where he is caught being both characters. It was a delightful moment. It is amazing what the placement of a hat can accomplish when moving from one character to another. Also, there was a magnificent moment when Wisbey changed characters on stage into the Duke. This was a grand moment that worked to perfection.

Emma Pallant as Abbess/Courtesan has a very unique look, dark foreboding, very large eyes and a very nice comic timing. But she can be serious and commanding as the Abbess when the role requires her to be, or not to be. (Pun intended.)

Sophie Scott as Merchants/Soldier/jailer did a very nice job. She also played a very mean clarinet. (That means “good” in America.)

Laura Rodgers as Adriana is a joy to watch and pleasing to the eye.  Her demands are not so much she would be considered a demanding wife.  Nor is her jealousy so much to provoke her into crimes of passion against her sister (Only going as far as tearing a page out of a book.).  Still, giving that extra push into unchartered comedic territories would only add to an already fine performance.

Dana Garland as Luciana kind of fit into that geek mold.  One is not really sure her characterization as a bibliophage really worked in the complete erroneous scheme of things.  Nevertheless, she and Antipholus of Syracuse made a perfect match.  They were, by all accounts, made for each other but their relationship never took off either one way or another and playing a little too hard to get and letting her hair down in the end was a little too late.  Still, she did some marvelous work on stage.

Overall the acting was brilliant.  They all seemed to realize the errors of their ways, which make The Comedy of Errors so delightful, so engaging, and so mesmerizing.

Rebecca Gatward, the director, does a marvelous job in putting this all together and having the actors run at full speed during the course of the evening. There are a lot of marvelous actions on stage and off to keep the action going. When actors were far stage right or far stage left they had instruments to produce sound effects to the action on stage.  This is what I love about the craft of acting and the spirit of directing, all for one and all for the common good.

The Set Design by Liz Cooke reminded me of a beach cabana perched on a loading dock and gave Ephesus the feel of a tourist destination.  It also served as the home of Antipholus of Ephesus.  Ms. Cooke was also the Costume Designer.  These are two jobs marvelously done and something you don’t see much of here in Los Angeles.

Run to see this production.

Run fast.  Run long.  Run deep.  

1310 11th Street, Santa Monica, CA  90401

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