If you’re a lover of impossible opposites, or have ever wondered what it would be like to wander into a mirthful merge—or, in the company’s assuredly less elegant, but admittedly (and amusingly) more accurate “mash”—of two wildly disparate classic works of theater, does Silver Spring’s Lumina Studio Theatre have a show for you. Its two casts (your reviewer saw the Green), totaling some 78 young players, some of them pint-size and some of them mid-size, but all of them, in talent, outsize, will leave you wondering if you’ll ever be able to watch or read either of its components—Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and Sophocles’s Oedipus at Colonus—with a straight face again. (Or even, at least for a while, want to.)
Entering the theater, we’re greeted by an eclectic mix of show tunes, soft rock, movie sound tracks and TV commercial jingles, from the once ubiquitous 70s Coke ad, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” to the Gilligan’s Island and Leave It to Beaver theme music, to the overture from Star Wars (Video and Sound Engineer: Ron Murphy; Music Director: Wendy Lanxner).
Jim Porter’s set is simple, but functional. Three black- curtained door frames and above them, three shutter windows topped with a gable roof, all set against a stark white backdrop. Black-and-white detail frames the doors and windows: lyre shapes, the former; the iconic Greek key pattern design, the latter. This classic elegance is challenged, if not contravened, by an upturned vase at the center window, leading the eye to two winged, plunging creatures, one distressed-faced and the other with arms akimbo heading face-forward. Two large plaster figures anchor the rooftop: a buxom, mustachioed Greek maiden at the left and a plump, bewildered owl on the right.
This blend of innocence and insouciance, wisdom and wisecracks sets the stage for a play-within-a-play; or, rather, an upstart play that plays nicely (if not necessarily nice) on, and with, two canonic plays. That the actors are grade-, middle- and high-school students who rattle off the complex verse (much of it inventively and delightfully mixed, muddled, and archly contemporized by Artistic and Executive Director /Director David Minton) as if they were born spouting Sophocles and Shakespeare, is enough to both rattle and inspire aspiring and experienced thespians alike.
As the snooty, bespectacled, pantsuited Professor who improbably sets the stage for the wackiness that awaits, Gwyn Davies is caustically droll as she demeans the quality of the snacks outside and (pointedly) the audience that’s consuming them. As her fairy assistant Amazonia, distinguished by a mop of sparkling, wildly splaying, variegated hair (Costumers: Wendy Eck and Dianne Dumais), a sweetly mischievous Meredith Robertson reveals herself to be a talented mime as the character “translates” everything the Professor says, aided by signs that swiftly, comically undercut it.
The progress of the play is both aided and (equally comically) undercut by the Chorus of Theban Elders, six white-bearded small fry (Amorah Watts, Layla Haidara, Michael Zenick, Beatriz O’Keefe, Jason Pena, and Jeremiah Langley) who thrust open, then slam shut the windows, rapid-fire, as in vaudeville routines of old, to proclaim their support for or opposition to various causes (“Single-payer!” yells one with the gung-ho enthusiasm of a practiced protester), then descend to tell us their individual tales of woe (one was bounced for insider trading). That kids of this age can master the intricacies not just of sophisticated wordplay, but of the cues and rhythms demanded by ensemble acting of this sort, is a testament to them and to David Minton (and whoever else may have participated in the coaching).
As we leave the ancient Greece of Sophocles (“Plot change ahead,” per a card-carrying character) we have a feeling it won’t be for good, or for long: Oedipus, played by a lachrymose Miles Feingold-Black (very Theban in purple-rimmed, gold-belted toga and white shoulder-length hair) bemoans his state—and the situation that has brought him to it—in a way that has “Stay tuned” written all over it.
In Shakespeare’s ancient coastal city of Ephesus, wittily segued into via a trio of merchants (hailing from Syracuse, Ephesus and, of course, Venice) and a group of figures (kudos to makeup designer Liz Porter for the superbly aged, craggy face of one) who pass the baton to the upstairs crew (timely chiming in with the Gilligan’s Island theme), things are not going well.
The Professor indignantly denies that she’s the Professor, while a breastplated Amazonia blissfully tosses up fistfuls of sparkles at intervals, whispering, “Theater magic!” as a Bullwinkle-worthy Janitor (a soberly acquiescent Sophia Gunther, evoking silent films and 60’s cartoons) returns to silently sweep them up with a dedication tinged with mild reproof, exasperation and toleration that is cumulatively comedic.
Meanwhile, Antipholus of Syracuse (Anna Avanesyan) and his servant Dromio (Anna Brookes) arrive at what they think is Ephesus, with an air both businesslike and bemused, only to be advised by a duo of whirligig-twirling conventioneers and a yoo-hoo party girl / movie star in the window above (Naomi McDonald), a drink in each hand, that they’re actually still in Syracuse—New York.
Get me rewrite!
Not a chance. We’re having too much fun. As the Chorus announces “the story of Oedipus, the prequel—when we, the Chorus, were bigger,” we find ourselves face to snout with a brown-shoed, furry-pawed Sphinx (Sidra Hoffman, possessed of an ominous roar, yet coolly self-possessed) who demands that Odysseus answer its riddle. “Gimme a break!” he cries. “I’m an Olympic hero.” “Ryan Lochte said the same thing,” returns the Sphinx (who also gets in a ba-da-boom riff on SAT questions).
But what (not to mention where) would Oedipus be without his mama? While Sophocles sees her as loving and earnest, level-headed and pacific, in this “foul and pestilent congregation of vapours” of a mishmash (as Shakespeare self-plagiaristically and unapologetically terms it in the program note), she is . . . does Moon Unit ring a bell?
As Jo Casta, Madeline Martin, with a hard plastic flip in Crayola yellow and an attitude to match, is positively pitch-perfect, and a perfect match for her daughter Ismene (Naomi McDonald), whose Sophoclean character is also turned on its head. Rather than fearful and hesitant, afraid to join her sister Antigone in burying her brother against her uncle’s orders, this babe is blasé-bigtime, a gum-chewing, redheaded sexpot with a flaming-red, fist-sized heart in the center of her bodice. On the other hand, Samar Haddad’s Antigone, as in the play, offers a chilling portrait of anomie: “Life sucks,” she observes in Act II, her eyes as frighteningly dead as her voice and her words.
Tossed back into the Aegean (or at least Shakespearean) sea, we see Antipholus of Syracuse (Anna Avanesyan), in a canary yellow pantsuit topped with a peaked orange cap (bill?), haranguing the man he thinks is his servant, Dromio of Ephesus (Ilan Brick) — both sets of characters being twins — and demanding that he tell him where the money he gave him is. The pigtailed Brick proves to be (if your writer may employ a metaphorical nominal “mash” of her own) a sturdy building block, his rapid-fire patter and crackerjack delivery mining the humor and finding a perverse dignity in the trials of the much-abused, long-suffering servant.
And then there’s Adriana, Antipholus of Ephesus’s wife (a muscular and commanding Karim Angulo, packing a visual wallop even before the fireworks start, decked out in a floor-length gown and a curly blond ’do ascending three feet skyward). Unlike in Shakespeare, she doesn’t seek to untangle the threads. Dispassionately sizing up with a glance the impossibility of the situation, she belts out “Fever,” as a quartet of feather-fan-waving, glitter-skirted, very perplexed-looking (and highly skilled) little boys dance with an air of hilarious helplessness.
“Clearly,” admonishes the Professor, “the high tone of the evening has gone south.”
Let me hasten to assure you: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
There’s the Sacred Goat Dance (the funky Norah Juzenas and Aviva Wright as Bilius and Gruffius, bearded, horned, and groovin’ to “She’s All Right”; choreographers: Sylvie Weissman & Grace Sperber-Whyte), a stylized beat-down conducted kabuki-style (“because there are children in the audience”), and Bob the Door (an appealingly, humorously mournful Anyana Greene), who gently laments Antipholus’s failure to appreciate his door-ness, but decides that, when all’s said and done, life’s pretty good. And that’s all in Act I.
Act II brings us the two playwrights in the flesh, both characters broadly drawn, and as competitively cantankerous as a pair of blue jays. Starting off in agreement about the silliness of the play, their conversation quickly degenerates into an insult-hurling free-for-all, with Shakespeare (a preening Rowan Talmadge in long, silver-white waves and Elizabethan garb) cuttingly declaring his comedy’s superiority to Sophocles’ groaningly dull tragedy, and Sophocles (Lena Ruther, who starts out dignified, and seems to have the edge, at least behaviorally) angrily returning the favor (and eventually the blows, the two of them ending up . . . well, let’s just say it’s not a position that readily comes to mind).
And of course there’s Creon—actually, three Creons, one from each of the Oedipus plays. Dressed alike and shaped alike the three of them may be, but there, the similarities end. Zaida Willis as Creon 1 (Nice), Ilsa Jentsch as Creon 2: (Shocked!) and Zuri Alexander as Creon 3: (Action-hero) absorbingly, distinctively and persuasively portray different aspects of the mentally split monarch.
In fact, temporal splits and doublings, mental twists and metaphors are par for this zany / brainy production as a whole. With David Minton skippering the ship (aided and abetted by seven Assistant Directors: Sophie Falvey, Cicelie Gray, Raina Greifer, Catherine Horowitz, Grace Sperber-Whyte, Sophia Varnai, and Sylvie Weissman), judging from the sheer fun that even the tiniest tots with the most tortuous tongue-twisters seem to be having, the steady hand at the helm is tempered by an imaginative flexibility that puts all the actors at ease (tho the spectators’ heads may be spinning).
In fact, there is so much happening on stage, and it’s so well managed—and it all goes by so quickly—by the time you’ve duly appreciated a witticism or assimilated a solecism, a half-dozen more will have whizzed by (and you may well have missed ’em). Making it advisable to see the show more than once, if you can. If you do—or if you haven’t seen it yet—hop aboard. You’ll be glad you took this less-than “three-hour tour.”
Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, including an intermission.
The Comedy of Errors . . . at Colonus (Green Cast) plays on Friday, December 9th at 7:00 PM and on Saturday, December 10, 2016, at 7:00 PM at Lumina Studio Theatre performing at The Silver Spring Black Box Theatre – 8641 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD.