Theater – Comedy of Errors

Photo by Scott Suchman for Shakespeare Theatre Company

I have enjoyed Shakespeare for a long long time.  And somewhere in my brain, I have a very basic memory of what my first experience seeing Shakespeare was.  I can’t be 100% sure, but there’s some bit that niggles at me and says, “Comedy of Errors”, and I’m not sure why.  It may be because the humor is very basic, and would have been a good introduction to a preteen?  Maybe it was something I studied in one of my classes.  In any case, I have a little knowledge of this show – of how silly it is and fitting into the early works of the Bard before his comedies became more nuanced.

What I apparently had forgotten was how short this particular show was.  The sign at the box office said just over an hour and a half – and this was including a few musical numbers to beef up the evening.  There was no intermission, just straight through, slap-dash fun.  And this particular performance seemed geared towards emphasizing the fun and silly.

Photo by Scott Suchman for Shakespeare Theatre Company

The story combines a lot of elements that would make appearances in later, greater works.  A shipwreck, families separated, twins, falling in love with someone you think you shouldn’t who turns out to be ok in the end, debts owed, barbaric punishments for punitive crimes.  This particular production is set in what appears to be early 60s Greece, and is truly over-the-top in every way.  The costumes generally stick to a neutral palate of mostly blacks and whites, with a few neutrals of brown and beige, with the occasional pop of red, gold or gaudy print to emphasize a character.  It is impressively consistent.

The set is also a marvel – it has four large house fronts on a massive turntable so that the scene could change, and the structures in the background would give the effect of a Greek town with side alleys and passageways.  It turns out that the set fronts were more like half houses, for a few could be turned and have scenes performed in the interior.  Characters would be both inside AND outside, and the set felt fully formed and expansive – more real than a set normally would.  Even though you would see a character run through a bead curtain to nowhere, it felt like they might simply be going off to another part of the house!

Photo by Scott Suchman for Shakespeare Theatre Company

A production like this one that leans so heavily on timing of lines and and physical gags is also one that is dependent on good actors being able to spit out those lines at the appropriate timing and speed, and not feel or look silly.  It seems that quite a few of the recent and longtime greats have come back for Michael Kahn’s final season, and so the production was of great value with acting talent.  But the persons who need the greatest round of applause for their quick change abilities, their song and dance skills, and their perfectly malleable mugs were those men playing the Proteans – whose title literally means “capable of assuming many forms”.  These two – Justin G. Nelson and John Cardenas – took on dozens of mostly silent roles through the night, but provided immense comic support for the production.  It felt like a game, wondering how fast they would be able to change costumes, and in what guise they would next show up.

This was the perfect kind of show for a night out as parents of an infant.  Short, so you’re not getting home ridiculously late to relieve the babysitter.  Immensely humorous, because coming home from a comedy is a better bet for arriving home in a more upbeat mood.  And a high quality production – because if you’re going to spend time and money away from your baby or toddler, you want it to be worth your while.  This show hit all those marks, and we had the best time.  Go see it while you can.

Details: The Comedy of Errors, at the Shakespeare Theatre’s Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW, Washington DC, 20004. Through November 4.

1 Comment

  1. Beverly says: Reply

    I saw it two nights ago and loved it! I was so happy to see some of my favorite actors who haven’t been in one of the shows for a while, even if only in small roles. A great way to start the 2018-2019 season.

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