Many recent productions of The Comedy of Errors set Shakespeare’s language within a more recent environment, and in this case The Arilngton Players have set their production in Chicago in the 1920s – a madcap presentation of this classic tale of the confusion cast by two sets of long-lost twins mistaken for each other, then reunited in Ephesus. Except for the antics of Maddy Gorshon as Dromio of Syracuse, Amanda Quain as Dromio of Ephesus and Jonathan Fry as Antipholus of Syracuse, the rest of the performance did not take best advantage of the setting or the tom-foolery associated with this early Shakespearian farce.
Director Robert Leembruggen used several of his technical staff to great effect. One was the trumpet playing by James Weiss. Weiss was posted downstage left under a “gas lamp.” At the beginning, end, and in-between scenes, he was isolated by the spotlight while playing full versions or snippets of standards like “Chicago,” “Downtown,” “Reveille,” “All that Jazz,” as well as snippets of jazz classics. The music sometimes provided an ironic twist to the scene before it. At the end, “Reveille” kept up with the one frantic scene in which the mystery of the double twins is solved.
The sound design by Chris Kagay and lighting design by Megan Thrift isolated the Dromios from the freeze action of the rest of the cast as they gave commentaries on the present situation. A bell would ring, all other actors would freeze, and either of the Dromios would be front center stage with a lone spotlight separating them from their regular world. The monologue ended with another bell, the full stage lighting resumed, and all actors continued on their way.
Thrift also worked closely with Set Designer Cody Clarke. The two main sets were four Chicago 1920-appropriate skyscrapers and a house. The four skyscrapers were easily moved stage center or to the back depending on their importance. The skyscrapers were lit more or less depending on the mood and action. Some scenes contained a house. One of the house’s most unique uses was as a screen where actors shadows are backlit onto the opaque front wall while discussing the odd events with Dromio and Antipholus of Syracuse.
The fanciful costumes, hair and make-up often associated with new settings for The Comedy of Errors, were extremely toned down or absent in this production. Costume Designer Libby Dasback’s work was most evident in pulling together the outfits for the two Dromios. The only thing to tell them apart was their shoes. The two Antipholus had plain matching slim-cut suits and hair and makeup designer Linda Wilson’s carefully drawn severe mustaches.
Except for the antics of Maddy Gorshon as Dromio of Syracuse, Amanda Quain as Dromio of Ephesus and Jonathan Fry as Antipholus of Syracuse, the rest of the performance did not take best advantage of the setting or the tom-foolery associated with this early Shakespearian farce.
Maddy Gorshon and Amanda Quain as the twin Dromios were hard to distinguish — which is the point of being twins in this play. They each dazzled with expressive faces and body language and a wide range of emotions. Each played the fool and the master. Jonathan Fry, as Antiphous of Syracuse used outsized facial expressions and movement to create attitude appropriate to the ridiculousness of the situations in which he found himself.
All of the cast members – some new to Shakespeare and some ‘veterans’ – were practiced in delivery of Shakespeare’s often tongue-twisting verse. Despite their proficiency, many of their deliveries came across as ‘one note’ rather than changing with situation and emotion. I am confident that as the run continues and they feel more comfortable with the language- their performances will improve, and that Dromio and Dromio and Antipholus of Syracuse will spread some of their twisted magic to the rest of the cast.
Rich Montgomery, as Aegon from Syracuse, had a very difficult job to tackle in the long opening monologue. He had a strong delivery which could only be improved upon by projecting different emotions and feigning genuine confusion.
Annie Kehrli and Samantha Sheahan as sisters Luciana and Adriana were strong in their delivery of the verse. However, I only got a sense of anger, not bewilderment or confusion, from their dialogue. Will Macleod as Antipholus of Ephesus also played a strong character — again, the emotions were rather one-note.
Courtesan Jessie Lillis was spared the need for much Shakespearian speech or comedy as most of her action took place in a speakeasy where she sang beautifully and had very little need for speech. Her later appearance among the two Dromios and two Antipholus was made stronger by the memory of her performance of a courtesan. Her sass carried her through.
Nancy Blum’s work as the nun and Amelia, the long lost wife of Aegeon,was pitch perfect. Similarly, Sally Cusenza, as the maid in search of a Dromio as a husband, spiced up her few brief stage moments.
Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.
The Comedy of Errors plays through Saturday, February 14, 2015 at The Arlington Players performing at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre – 125 South Old Glebe Road – in Arlington, VA. Tickets are available online, or at the door.