It sounds like a good idea to have an identical twin, be able to trade places when you need to, play fun pranks, cause confusion. Of course ideally one would need to know they have an identical twin for this sort of thing to work. But what happens when one has an identical twin but doesn’t know it? Better yet— two sets of people have identical twins and they don’t know it. Did I mention they can all time travel? That’s the chaos and sheer hilarity you’re in for as Annapolis Shakespeare Company presents William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.
Set against a very creative Steampunk background, this hysterical comedy will have you in stitches before it resolves itself. If ever there were cases of mistaken identity you’ll find them in this production. Directed by Sally Boyett-D’Angelo the ridiculous tale of two sets of twins separated at birth spirals out of control when they meet each other without really meeting each other. The comedy ensues as one man is frequently and continuously mistaken for the other in various situations leading to a load of slapstick comedy that just can’t be beat.
The quality of this production in all facets is just beyond compare. Acting, stunt choreography, costumes and sets like these belong on Broadway and the production as a whole was nothing short of astounding. The set was breath-taking the costumes were eye-popping and the true understanding of the Shakespearean text portrayed by these actors was brilliant. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this is top quality Shakespeare that could easily be showcased at The Globe without question.
Scenic Designer Steven Royal manages to create an extremely captivating set with a simplistic design, allowing the special effects created by Lighting Designer Garrett Hyde to produce a futuristic classical train station unlike any other. The centerpiece is the giant clock; a massive frightening antique that guards the gates to the portal of time travel. The opening of the show is almost more intense than the reveal at the beginning of The Phantom of the Opera when the chandelier crashes to life. In a similar fashion the clock explodes to life with blues and greens as these swirls of haunting light possess it, stealing the audience from the modern moment into a riveting madness.
Hyde’s work continues to animate the clock throughout the production as it is raised and lowered during key scenes. Intensifying the light and design work of the show is the uniquely crafted soundscape provided by Composer/Arranger Jonathan Boulden. There is a repetitive use of carnivalesque calliope style music, often when the ensemble is present during scene changes, which haunts the auditorium in a manner most intriguing. Boulden’s musical influence becomes most important in orchestrating chaos upon the stage, especially during the act I finale. His achievements for this production are mind blowing.
The Steampunk influence is featured most heavily in the myriad of unique costumes. Designer Maggie Cason showcases a circus of bizarre outfits that hold elements of the past and the future; antiquated and modern, blending the two in a fashion most becoming of this vastly impressive production. There are goggles atop many of the top hats, long leather boots and patterned corsets; a festival of colors upon which the eyes can feast.
Some of the more eye-popping costumes include the libertine’s dress; a rich purple gown with raised and hooked gold and black ruffles accompanied by lacy purple stockings. Also the time traveler’s outfit; a beige parachuting outfit that makes Egeon (John Fabiszewski) look like he was peeled off the cover of an H.G. Wells novel. The Mime’s outfit takes the cake, a hounds-tooth tutu skirt accompanied by a black and white pinstriped corset; outdoing the puppet in rich green lederhosen by just a smidge.
This particular production relies heavily on physical slapstick comedy so much so that they should have reconsidered the title to be The Comedy of Violent Terrors. Slapstick to a point can becomes trite and boring but that never happens in this show. Fight Choreographer Paul E. Hope orchestrates some of the most epic scenes of chaos ever experienced in Shakespeare upon the stage for this production. Hope’s crowning glory comes to fruition during a scene where Antipholus of Syracuse (Griffin Horn) sword fights with a Spanish Merchant (Jerad Lee) to tango music. Their fight evolves into an actual tango with swords clashing and bodies dipping; a moment of sheer hilarious genius. Hope achieves cacophonous riots during the act I finale and again in act II when everyone on stage falls into a strange trance dance to a Celtic Steampunk soundtrack.
Director Sally Boyett-D’Angelo crafts perfect duplicates from her two sets of twins. She ensures that despite not looking 100 percent identical these twins act and speak in such a way that at times even the audience finds confusion in telling them apart. This heightens the experience of the comedy. D’Angelo has added an additional element to keep the slapstick comedy fresh; every time a violent action occurs be it a slap, a punch, a kick in the ass – it is accompanied with a flawlessly timed sound-effect played on the side of the stage by The Mime (Emily Diekemper). This along with countless other unique choices makes this show a sensational performance that is not to be missed during its brief run.
The acting belays worlds of understanding to Shakespeare’s text. Six main people show us their verbal prowess throughout the production, importing emotion and vivacious feeling into their words making the archaic dialect more translatable to the modern ear. Adriana (Madeleine Stevens) and her sister Luciana (Solveig Moe) speak in perfect rhyming verse with a strong pacing to the meter of the text. Stevens later delivers a speech in hysterics at such a pace that you hardly see her lips move much less hear her but it only serves to add to the comedy of the show. And Stevens imbues the saying ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ when she believes her husband, through mistaken identity, has rebuked her.
Antipholus of Syracuse (Griffin Horn) and Antipholus of Ephesus (Patrick Horn) portray comic confusion to perfection during the performance. Their mannerisms of beating their servants are identical in such a way that despite the comedy of it all it’s very perplexing. Griffin Horn, mistakenly in love with Solveig Moe’s character at one point, waxes poetic as if he were the sonnet master himself. And Patrick Horn expresses a powder keg of a speech late in act ii to recount all the misdeeds presented against him up to that point that literally blows the audience away.
But the couple that steal the cake, and take all the beatings are the pair of Dromios. Dromio of Syracuse (Joshua Boulden) lament over the obese kitchen maid (padded up and played by Michelle Alade) brings the audience to laughing tears as he spits vile comparison after vile comparison of her grotesque countenance and global girth to his master. Boulden, like his twin, masters the arts of being flung about like a ragdoll as he is beaten, walloped, and abused by the pair of Antipholuses.
Dromio of Ephesus (Rob Schonthaler) is a riot. He willingly leaps into the arms of his master to be used as a human battering ram to bash in the locked door, wailing in pain and then chastising his master to hit the door harder. Schonthaler uses every limb in his body, physically bending and bowling over to reanimate the encounter between he and the other Antipholus to his Antipholus. Both Schonthaler and Boulden are comic assets to this show, without which the nature of the diabolical slapstick comedy would simply be incomplete.
Every why hath a wherefore – why? Because it’s hysterical. Wherefore – because you’ll be hard pressed to find a higher quality production of Shakespeare’s finest comedy.
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.
The Comedy of Errors plays through August 11, 2012 at Annapolis Theatre Company at The Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513, or purchase them online.