The Shakespeare Theater Company’s absurdly farcical Comedy of Errors is the perfect Shakespeare for people who don’t like Shakespeare. One of the bard’s early plays, the zany script is also his shortest and most slapstick. While perhaps the least quoted, the work’s title has entered the popular English lexicon as an idiom for “an event or series of events made ridiculous by the number of errors that were made throughout.” Alan Paul’s Comedy of Errors delivers on that madcap promise.
STC’s performance delivers zany gags, physical comedy, mistaken identities and screwball hijinks as the audience follows two sets of separated-at-birth twins, each with the same name, as they suddenly cross paths in the same Greek village. Through chronic cases of mistaken identity, audiences suspend logical disbelief and delight in the wacky confusion, where servants misplace their masters, wives mistake their husbands, and consequences and ripple effects carom like pinballs. The blunders double, triple, and cube until chaos reigns—and everyone is pretty sure that everyone else is completely insane.
Grappling with the limited script, director Paul supplemented with a random assortment of original musical numbers by Michael Dansicker. Together the songs quilt a schizophrenic mélange of Barney Fife meets Bing Crosby meets 1970s Car Wash soul. Most enjoyable, if inexplicable, is a trio of tap-dancing town cops (Matt Bauman, John Cardenas, and Justin G. Nelson) singing nonsensically about overtime. More head scratching are Eleasha Gamble’s sexy striptease porcupine number (yes, the quilled rodent), and Sarah Marshall’s jaunty little exorcism tune as Dr. Pitch.
The show works best when the stellar cast exercises its chops on the verse. Veanne Cox burns off the stage as Adriana, long suffering wife of Antipholes of Syracuse (Christian Conn), smoldering with desire for…and irritation at…her husband. The Syracusian performers eclipse their local twins: Gregory Wooddell perfects the comic “wild-eye” as Antipholus of Syracuse, absurdly buffeted by the insanity he encounters in a town full of strangers that know him intimately. Carson Elrod has the best banter and physical comedy as Dromio of Syracuse, though in light of #MeToo and Kavanaugh, this female viewer thought an extended exchange about a woman’s hefty figure could have been significantly edited. Elrod also has the tenderest moment when reunited with his beleaguered twin, Dromio of Ephesus (Carter Gill).
James Noone’s Greek village set is a masterwork of rotating storefronts, a perfect labyrinth for madcap chases and near misses. The crown jewel is the fish market and its stoner clerk. Gabriel Berry’s black and white costumes are divine, with flashes of gold from bowm chicka bowm bowm effeminate gay swinger goldsmith Angelo (Tom Story).
STC’s Comedy of Errors is a confusing trinity of three shticks: Greek stereotypes, bawdy contemporary notes, and ye olde Shakespeare. But no matter the misfires, both audience and cast had a ball. The acting is stellar, and sometimes you need an over-the-top slapstick Shakespearean musical farce to let off a little steam. Leave logic at home and enjoy the antics.
Comedy of Errors is playing at The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre (450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004) through October 28, 2018. Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission. For information or tickets, call the box office at (202) 547-1122, or click here.
*Photos credit Scott Suchman