‘The Comedy of Errors’ at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

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“This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!” sings Matthew Ancarrow at the end of Act 1, as Antipholus of Syracuse finds himself confusingly entrenched in the life of a stranger who shares his name and face.

Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime” is not a song one would automatically pair with Shakespeare. Nor is Megan Trainor’s “Lips are Moving,” or really any of the songs included in this production. And yet they work. The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s summer production, The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare, directed by Scott Alan Small, is riddled with these sorts of idiosyncrasies. Neon-colored wigs. Strobe lights. Tequila shots. On paper, these additions strain credulity, but in practice they add a hilarious sense of immediacy to this centuries old play.

Bobby Henneberg, Carson Elizabeth Gregory, and Mary Myers. .Photo by Teresa Castracane.
Bobby Henneberg, Carson Elizabeth Gregory, and Mary Myers .Photo by Teresa Castracane.

The Comedy of Errors tells the story of two sets of identical twins who were separated at infancy. Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse, have arrived in Ephesus where they are immediately mistaken for the long-lost brothers they’ve been searching for. Not that any of the characters know this. What follows is a series of increasingly high-stakes hijinks, where masters and servants find their lives intersecting, eventually drawing the entire town into their confusing, convoluted family reunion.

Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar wrote in the program that this production sought to link three worlds: ”the broad comic style of Roman comedy, the sublime language of Shakespeare, and contemporary comic imagery.” I’d have to say that CSC succeeds on all three counts. Of the first two, they’re part and parcel of the play and easily shine in the hands of a good director and talented actors. But the inclusion of contemporary comic imagery – traditional commedia dell’arte, familiar slap-stick, and modern references like the songs and Adriana and Luciana’s complicated handshakes – is what gives this show its funniest moments. It also serves to emphasize the timelessness of Shakespeare’s works, the inclusion of modern parlance and physicality reinforcing the sense of shared humanity across time and place.

It’s difficult to talk in detail about the cast and their high points without giving too much away. Matthew Ancarrow and Robby Rose play the twins Antipholus and both were hilarious as their characters lives fall apart around them. Kelsey Painter and Bobby Henneberg play the devoted Dromios, who suffer much for their servitude. Mary Myers plays Adriana, the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, who is determined to be a good wife and keep her husband in line (and free from an obvious bout of demonic possession) no matter what. Carson Elizabeth Gregory plays Luciana, Adriana’s sister, sounding board, and sidekick in the ensuing madness. Jeff Miller is a gem, playing multiple roles, all of them women, and making the most of each opportunity for laughs. During intermission, he even led the audience in a sing-a-long of The Kink’s “Lola.”

The costumes and hair styles, by Heather C. Jackson and Haley Raines Young respectively, have only the slightest tie to the play’s Greek setting. Instead, they’re united in bright colors and facility for easy movement, and I really liked it and found it fitting with the tone of the play. The set is impressive, featuring multiple levels, many sets of stairs, and no less than five doors. The ruins provide a picturesque background already, and the set design, designed by Daniel O’Brien, melds almost seamlessly into the structure. You’d never guess that the entire set had been built specifically for this production.

Matthew Ancarrow and Robby Rose. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
Matthew Ancarrow and Robby Rose. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

From where I sat, the actors projected their lines clearly, a feat I found impressive considering there were no microphones and I was sitting near the back row of chairs. The rapidity of their delivery occasionally made Shakespeare’s verbose dialog hard to follow, but for the most part, everything was relatively easy to grasp.

Shakespeare-in-the-Park persists because, simply put, it’s fun. The Comedy of Errors is a hilarious show, and Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has produced a rollicking production, and as Shakespeare’s shortest work, it won’t keep anyone out in the heat for overly long. The Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park is beautiful and the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company makes the most of this setting.

Arrive early to enjoy pre-show games and entertainment. Food and drinks are allowed in the park and during the show, so attendees are encouraged to bring picnics or purchase food at the stand set up near the ruins. And thanks to generous sponsors, this production is free to all children aged 18 and younger, provided there is one paying adult per two children.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

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The Comedy of Errors plays through July 19, 2015 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performing at The Ruins at PFI Historic Park— 3691 Sarah’s Lane, in Ellicott City, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 244-8570, or purchase them online.

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