Review: ‘The Comedy of Errors’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of The Comedy of Errors, directed by Sally Boyett, is a hilariously funny and inventive reimagining of Shakespeare’s early play, combining physical comedy, steampunk, and time travel. An enjoyable mashup of Doctor Who, the Marx Brothers, and the Three Stooges, it is a delightful show to begin their new season.

The cast of The Comedy of Errors, now playing at Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
The cast of The Comedy of Errors, now playing at Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Matthew Murray and Morgan Hooper play identical twins named Antipholus, with Clay Vanderbeek and Joe Leitess playing their identical twin servants Dromio. Both pairs have excellent chemistry together, with Vanderbeek and Leitess bringing a goofy physicality to their role. They leap over sofas, catch purses in mid-air, then run into the wall. With an empty picture frame, they recreate in part the famous mirror scene from Duck Soup. They crawl through their masters’ legs to escape a beating. And Murray and Hooper are always comically striking them, either with their bare hands or a long newspaper. Adding to the chaos, Murray and Vanderbeek carry a remote control that can stop and reverse time; they use that to excellent comic effect. Murray and Hooper both capture the frustration of the confused identities, with Hooper at the end frantically pacing at the center of the stage, while Murray frequently expressing his confusion as the cast spookily surrounds him.

Erin Denman gives a passionate intensity to Adriana, Antipholus’ wife. She angrily confronts Murray, thinking him her husband, pulling one arm, while Vanderbeek pulls his other arm. She wraps herself around Murray in an earthy embrace. Later, she furiously points her fan at Antipholus’ Jailer (Eric Rhodes), forcing him backwards. Charlotte Blacklock plays Luciana, Adriana’s sister, with a cynicism towards men’s wildness. Her conflicted reaction at Murray’s declaration of love is perfect, which has him grabbing and dipping her. She pulls away at first, then kisses him, at first hesitantly, then passionately. At the end, she tears off her cap. Blacklock accidentally strikes Denman, who gives her a furiously silent stare.

J.B. McLendon is great fun to watch as Angelo, a merchant wronged by the mistaken identities. An expert at physical comedy, he maneuvers Murray and Vanderbeek around the stage from behind. Demanding his money, he ends in a tango of a duel with Murray, Vanderbeek, and another Merchant (Rhodes).

Christine Asero plays Emelia with an air of mysterious authority. She appears throughout the play, moving the hands of the clock. At the end, she quiets the rioting characters with a firm command. Joy enters her voice as everything is resolved. Gus Demos gives a sadness to Egeon, Antipholus’ father, his wrists bound. The despair on his face as one son fails to recognize him is almost painful. He terrifies as Dr. Pinch, shouting with fanatical fury in a thick German accent. Dexter Hamlett gives a powerful dignity to Duke Solinus, while Kristin Bellamarie gives a charming cunning to the Courtesan, scheming to retrieve her ring.

Shubhangi Kuchibhotla perfectly captures the Mime, who, with the help of various instruments works many of the sound effects while staying in the corner. Although somewhat hidden, she regularly interacts with the other characters, sometimes “forgetting” an effect until they remind her. While Egeon tells his sad story, she mimes a violin playing.

Scenic Designer Salydon Boyken has constructed a set that makes wonderful use of steampunk elements. A giant mechanical clock face, with moveable hands, is suspended at the back. On the far left is a staircase leading to a small balcony with a door. On the far right is a brick wall with a door. In the corner sits a small stage of musical instruments. Behind the clock, the backdrop serves as a screen, at which Projections Designer Joshua McKerrow throws colorful and abstract images, occurring during the time travel sequences. During one chaotic scene, black and white scenes depicting the French Revolution appear. The effects add to the science fiction atmosphere of the show.

Sandra Spence and Jessica McKee have done wonderful jobs as Costume Designer and Wig and Make-Up Designer, creating outfits that in many cases mix traditional attire with steampunk style. Luciana begins the play with a brown leather jacket, brown and green pants, and an aviator’s cap with goggles, then changes into a blue-green dress, striped corset, and a tiny bowler hat on her head. Dr. Pinch frightens wearing a gas mask and tight black pants and jacket with gold brocade. Emelia wears a black cape and hood, and a black half mask. The Mime has a short black and white dress, and white striped shirt, with white makeup on her face, like a kabuki performer. Angelo wears gold pants and a jacket with clockworks printed on it. The two Antipholuses wear white trench coats, long black boots, red shirts and vests with brown derbies and goggles. The Dromios each wear red caps, brown leather vests, and brown plaid pants.

The cast of The Comedy of Errors, now playing at Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
The Comedy of Errors plays through October 28 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Sound Designer Marc Irwin does a wonderful job giving various sounds to the production, from a clock’s inner workings to the time machine operating. He also enhances the physical comedy with silly sounds from the Mime’s instruments, straight out of a Three Stooges movie. Lighting Designer Adam Mendelson adds to the atmosphere with golden shell covered lights at the edges of the stage. During Dr. Pinch’s scene, the lights flash in a strobe.

Sally Boyett has done an excellent job as Director. The actors’ movements are as intricate as a ballet, and they make it seem easy. The physical comedy is hysterical, and the time travel sequences make perfect sense. It is sheer joy just watching them move across the stage. With Voice Coach Nancy Krebs, Shakespeare’s language comes through clearly. Everything comes together for an evening of laughter and pleasure. Catch it while you can!

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with a 20-minute intermission.

The Comedy of Errors plays through October 28, 2018, at Annapolis Shakespeare Company – 1804 West Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-415-3513 or purchase them online.