Story: Identical twin sons are born to a merchant of Syracuse on the same day that identical twin sons are born to a poor woman in the same city. The merchant then purchases the woman’s children as slaves for his sons. On a voyage shortly thereafter, the merchant and one of his sons and one of the slaves are separated from the merchant’s family, whom they do not see again.
Years later, the grown Antipholus of Syracuse and his slave Dromio arrive in Ephesus, the latest of many places they’ve visited in search of their missing brothers. As weird events begin to happen to them in Ephesus, being accused of being places they didn’t visit or doing things they didn’t do, they attribute the strange goings-on to witchcraft.
Meanwhile, Antipholus of Ephesus and his slave Dromio are unwittingly part of the bizarre proceedings. Further, the former’s wife, Adriana, is convinced that he is cheating on her, something exacerbated when Antipholus of Syracuse meets and falls in love with Adriana’s sister, Luciana. Will the truth be learned before jealousy or anger results in more tragic consequences?
Highlights: Director Jef Awada and his colleague, ‘metteur en scene’ Alec Wild, have whittled this St. Louis Shakespeare production of The Comedy of Errors down into a lean, 70-minute, one-act version of The Bard’s famous heaping of silliness about mistaken identities, with amusing results.
Featuring a cast of just eight performers, with four of those in minor roles, Awada’s direction is a fast-forward romp of mirth that accentuates Wild’s delightful experiment with brevity. It is indeed the soul of wit in this witty, speedy rendition.
Other Info: Less is certainly more with this production, which plays out on a Spartan set designed by George Spelvin. Four movable white pieces, three of which contain ladders and the fourth a double-door, are all the building materials required for the cast to engage their collective imagination. Given the abbreviated performance time as well as the inherent anarchy in the plot, it works seamlessly.
Also contributing to the show’s technical presentation are lighting designer Shelby Loera, sound designer Harrington James, properties designer Krista Tettaton and costume designer Felia Davenport. Their efforts blend together to keep the mood festive and upbeat.
Ben Watts is at his merry, manic best as the understandably confused Dromios, even referring to ‘The Comedy of Terrors’ at the show’s introduction to indicate the twin Dromios’ tenuous grasp of events. Watts glides gracefully on and around the mobile set, setting up scenes with dexterous delight while maintaining a look of ongoing bewilderment.
Christopher LaBanca is suitably haughty as Antipholus of Ephesus and a gallant gentleman as the smitten Antipholus of Syracuse. He’s particularly amusing as Antipholus of Ephesus in a scene with Andrew Kuhlman as a goldsmith determined to be paid for a locket he’s given to Antipholus of Syracuse, whom he’s unknowingly mistaken for Antipholus of Ephesus. Well, who wouldn’t be?
Maggie Conroy displays fine comic flair as the annoyed and highly spirited Adriana, while Julia Crump does nicely as Adriana’s flattered but dutiful sister Luciana. In addition to Kuhlman, supporting players include Nikki Lott as the abbess who protects the bewildered Syracusans, Shane Bosillo as the crackpot Dr. Pinch and Andrew Rea as an officer summoned by the goldsmith amidst the confusion over receiving payment for the locket.
This may not be the best approach to Shakespeare for purists, with several characters entirely omitted. St. Louis Shakespeare’s truncated and trippy Comedy of Errors, however, does offer a delightful approach to a consistently confusing comedy.
Play: The Comedy of Errors
Company: St. Louis Shakespeare
Venue: Florissant Civic Center Theatre, 1 James Eagan Drive, Waterford at Parker Road
Dates: October 24, 25, 26
Tickets: $15-$25; contact 361-5664, 800-838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Kim Carlson