Bay Area Theater Preview: THE COMEDY OF ERRORS (California Shakespeare)

by Tony Frankel on June 27, 2014

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

EXPECT NO ERRORS IN THIS COMEDY

One of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, The Comedy of Errors is also his shortest and most farcical. In fact, while scholars argue over the classification of other Bard works, there is no denying that this play—based on the works of Roman playwright Plautus, considered to be the inventor of low comedy—belongs to the category of Danny Scheie as Dromio and Adrian Danzig in Cal Shakes’ THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, directed by Aaron Posner; photo by Kevin BerneComedies: the tale of two sets of separated twins is not only full of slapstick, rampant with rhyme, jam-packed with puns, awash in word play, and replete with mistaken identities, it is the Bard’s only play with “Comedy” in the title.

As with many of Shakespeare’s comedies, the principal motif is mistaken identity, provided by the presence of those twins. As Aegon relates in his opening speech, he and his wife Aemilia, along with their twin sons and twin slaves, were separated by shipwreck. Thus, Aegon ended up in Syracuse with one Antipholus and Dromio, while Aemilia ended up in Ephesus along with the other Antipholus and the other Dromio. While in Ephesus on business, the Syracusan twins are constantly mistaken for the Ephesian twins and vice versa until both parties are united at last in a serendipitous and happy reunion. Because of the constant identity shifts, and because each pair of twins inexplicably carries identical names, The Comedy of Errors can be quite confusing for those unfamiliar with the play.

Patty Gallagher as the Courtesan, Adrian Danzig as Antipholus, and Danny Scheie as Dromio in Cal Shakes’ THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, directed by Aaron Posner; photo by Kevin Berne.This is exactly why the 1594 play is in good hands with California Shakespeare, known not just for quality work but clarity of storytelling. Opening tomorrow night with a run through July 20 at the Bruns Amphitheater, Aaron Posner directs Bay Area comic master Danny Scheie (last seen at Cal Shakes donning high drag in the pitch-perfect production of Lady Windermere’s Fan) as the twin Dromios, and Adrian Danzig, artistic director of Chicago’s 500 Clown, as the twins Antipholus of Ephesus/Antipholus of Syracuse.

Comedy reminds me of the great comic duos of the old vaudeville days, with its classic straight man/funny man, set-‘em-up/knock-‘em-down style,” says Posner. “There’s a very rough-and-tumble physicality to the piece, and it’s also grounded it in a playful and quirky sensibility. I’m delighted to be working with Danny again, after our outing together on Midsummer in 2009, and I know he and Adrian are the perfect pair to take on this aggressively energetic piece.”

Danny Scheie as Dromio in Cal Shakes’ THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, directed by Aaron Posner; photo by Kevin BerneYou can’t imagine how many troupes hail themselves as the best classical company in America, but how would they know if they haven’t been to Cal Shakes? Just having Posner, a freelance director and playwright, on board is reason enough to get thee to Orinda (an easy BART trip from the city). His The Tempest, which he co-created with Teller of the legendary duo Penn and Teller, had my friends raving after they saw its world premiere in Las Vegas (it is currently playing at American Repertory Theatre and opens at South Coast Rep in September). His published and produced plays include My Name Is Asher Lev, which just received a terrific revival at the Fountain in L.A., and the hilarious Stupid Fucking Bird, an irreverent remix of Chekhov’s The Seagull, which also opens this weekend at Pasadena’s Boston Court Theater.

Nemuna Ceesay as Adriana and Danny Scheie as Dromio in Cal Shakes’ THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, directed by Aaron Posner; photo by Kevin BerneThe company of The Comedy of Errors also includes Ron Campbell, returning to Cal Shakes after a lengthy stint with Cirque du Soliel; Patty Gallagher, who appeared in Cal Shakes’ all-female version of Twelfth Night earlier this year; Nemuna Ceesay, fresh from her performance as Beneatha in Cal Shakes’ season opener, A Raisin in the Sun; Tristan Cunningham, last seen in A Winter’s Tale; and Liam Vincent, who played the Courtesan in Cal Shakes’ 2004 production of Comedy.

The design team includes Nina Ball (responsible for the wonderful medieval fantasy set designs of Camelot at SF Playhouse), Beaver Bauer (whose brilliant costumes for Teatro Zinzanni melded styles of The Wild Wild West, Toulouse-Lautrec, Glam-Rock, and an espionage thriller), David Cuthbert (who did an amazing job on A Doll’s House at The Old Globe), Andre Pluess (whose achingly beautiful sound design for The White Snake at Berkeley Rep included a diaphanously Eastern score), and Erika Chong Shuch (who choreographed Cal Shakes’ The Tempest).

Danny Scheie as Dromio in Cal Shakes’ THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, directed by Aaron Posner - photo by Kevin Bernephotos by Kevin Berne

The Comedy of Errors
California Shakespeare Theater
Bruns Amphitheater
100 California Shakespeare Theater Way in Orinda
complimentary shuttle from Orinda BART
complimentary parking onsite
performances run through July 20, 2014
for tickets, call 510.548.9666
or visit www.calshakes.org

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