The Comedy of Errors

By Lukacs, Barbara Ann | Shakespeare Bulletin, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

The Comedy of Errors


Lukacs, Barbara Ann, Shakespeare Bulletin


Presented by The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre at Drew University, Madison, New Jersey. April 30-May 18, 2008. Directed by Stephen Fried. Set by Wilson Chin. Costumes by Alixandra Gage Englund. Lighting by Charlie Morrison. Sound by Eric Shim. Stage management by Kathy Snyder. With Derek Wilson (Antipholus of Ephesus), Christian Conn (Antipholus of Syracuse), Greg Jackson (Dromio of Ephesus), Nick Cordileone (Dromio of Syracuse), Richard Bourg (Egeon), Melissa Condren (Adriana),Julia Coffey (Luciana),James Michael Reilly (Solinus, Dr. Pinch), Mary Dierson (The Abbess, Emelia),John Ahlin (Angelo), Raphael Nash Thompson (Balthazar), Sarah Miller (Nell), and others.

The theme for the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's forty-sixth season was identity. Director Stephen Fried, a native of Madison, New Jersey, returned to make his New Jersey directorial debut with The Comedy of Errors, creating a modern interpretation of the play that examined the meaning of identity and how it is defined. Faced with a plot that might be called implausible or ludicrous, Fried avoided these labels by relating the play to our current desire to travel, to visit places beyond our comfort zone, to our fear of those who may be different from us, and to our fear of losing our identities.

Fried's Ephesus was a seedy, rundown town square lined with two-story houses and shops covered with tattered and peeling posters, vaguely reminiscent of some forgotten corner of the Middle East. Towels and tablecloths hung from clotheslines spanning the upper stage, while strings of colorful lights, lanterns, and pennants dangled between the buildings. Fried added silent, mysterious characters who weaved their way through the scenes conveying a sense of danger to the locale. A woman at a newsstand sold bottles of water and tabloids, while a shoeshine boy sat quietly stage left and a paparazzi-like photographer dashed about, clicking away with his camera. The upper and lower acting areas had a total of eight doors that in the tradition of comedy and farce were opened and shut with split-second timing as the actors frantically scurried about using slapstick antics reminiscent of the Marx Brothers, the Keystone Cops, or a Mel Brooks movie. An especially effective use of a door was the scene at Adriana's house, which afforded the two Dromios several moments of crude humor and spirited verbal exchanges punctuated by physical gestures as they communicated through a large opening in the front door. A third acting area was the entrance to and exit from the subway via the stage floor's trap door.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Although a comedy, the play commenced with a chilling, frightening scene. Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse, a vulnerable old man, was kneeling center stage at a wooden beheading block in the square. His unshaven face, shabby raincoat, dingy pants, and crumpled hat reflected his travels and travails. Being a Syracusian in Ephesus, Egeon's life was about to end. Before him towered the Duke of Ephesus, who was dressed in a militaristic dictator's outfit consisting of a khaki jacket and pants, red hat, and an elaborate jeweled gorget around his neck. Accompanied by an entourage of similarly-dressed soldiers, the Duke was a sobering and terrifying figure. Whereas Shakespeare limited Egeon's stage presence to 1.1 and 5.1, Fried used Egeon's reprieve to allow him to raise the funds to spare his life as the rationale for Egeon's repeated appearances onstage throughout the production. The handcuffed Egeon wandered in and out of scenes with a tin cup begging for money, always under the watchful eye of his soldier guard. His silent presence reminded the audience of his plight and the dangers of being a foreigner in Ephesus. Although comedic, it was also a stroke of cruelty and irony that he narrowly missed encountering each of his sons at various times. Each "almost encounter" was underscored by a brief "freeze" in the action. …

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