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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the June 25, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Comedy of Errors, in Miami, Swinging to a Latin Beat
There will be subtle echoes of "Miami Vice"
in this year’s Princeton Rep production of "The Comedy of Errors."
Shakespeare’s early comedy about two sets of identical twins will
be performed under the stars in the amphitheater at Princeton’s Pettoranello
Gardens, opening Friday, June 27, and continuing weekends through
July 13. Director Tom Rowan has relocated the action from ancient
Greece to Miami in the mid-1980s, a time and a place that seems to
him a perfect match for the play’s knockabout action that involves
shady business dealings, romantic encounters, and political intrigue.
What better spot to find the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios
than on the Miami boardwalk and at the beach where their rambunctious
misadventures can be enjoyed amid Latin flavored disco glamour and
within a sexy vacation paradise. Rowan sees the update as important
for not only seeing the obvious humor in the play, but also in appreciating
the plight of a family separated for years by a sea. As he says, during
our phone conversation, "the reward at the end of the play of
seeing a family that was violently split apart reunited is very real,
but not only to the Latino population of Miami."
As a precursor to Shakespeare’s later romances like "Pericles,"
"Cymbeline," and "The Winter’s Tale," Rowan sees "The
Comedy of Errors" confronting issues above and beyond its farcical
situations. "This," as Rowan sees it, "is especially true
of Antipholus of Ephesus," who is abusive to his wife, and when
he is angry he goes off to be comforted by a courtesan. Notwithstanding
this plot device that doesn’t always sit well with contemporary attitudes,
Rowan, sees the comedies, in general, as appealing to al fresco summer
As co-founder and artistic director of the Mirror Players, a summer
Shakespeare company in Denver, Rowan not only directed "As You
Like It," "Love’s Labour’s Lost," and "A Midsummer
Night’s Dream," but also the tragic "Hamlet," and "Romeo
"We all trained ourselves well for the bigger world," says
Rowan of the five years that the Mirror Players performed in Denver
(1989 to 1994). It won Rowan a director’s award, provided a great
opportunity to reinforce his professed love of Shakespeare, and provided
a practical application for his 1992 MFA in directing from the University
I ask Rowan if he thought Shakespeare’s comedies were easier for a
director who didn’t want to deal with complex character analysis.
"The one thing about all of Shakespeare’s plays are the rich characters;
all of them have great dimensionality about them." As he had already
pointed out regarding the disturbing traits of Antipholus of Ephesus,
as well as the increasing loss of self-identity suffered by Antipholus
of Syracuse, the subtler and more serious aspects of the play are
just as compelling as anything in "Hamlet." About the latter
tragedy,h he adds: "I found quite a few laughs in that one."
"The comedies always have the potential to turn serious with possible
tragedy lurking around the corner," he says. The sentiment is
mirrored in the increasing frustration and confusion of the characters
in "The Comedy of Errors."
Rowan says that what appeals most to him about the play is watching
the fun that audiences allow themselves "with a willing suspension
of disbelief." They’re allowed to get just as confused as the
so-called identical characters, even though they can easily tell them
apart. "Of course," says Rowan, "both sets of twins —
as implausible as it is — are seen wearing the same clothes."
He adds, "Same clothes, even though they have been separated since
they were babies. But once the mistake is first made and how it escalates
more and more, there’s an enormous comic energy that builds and builds."
As this is Rowan’s first go-round with "The Comedy of Errors,"
as well as his first time directing for the Princeton Rep Shakespeare
Festival, he admits that it is a challenge working outdoors. But it
is also a challenge because in "The Comedy of Errors," "there’s
a lot of visual and physical humor that needs to be controlled and
The Festival’s artistic director, Victoria Liberatori, approached
Rowan to direct, after seeing his staging of "The Two Gentlemen
of Verona," for Theater Ten Ten, an intimate neighborhood theater
located in the basement of an Upper East Side Park Avenue church.
Also directing "Twelfth Night," and "The Winter’s Tale,"
for Ten Ten, Rowan says that as a Shakespeare director, he wants to
take on each of the plays as it becomes offered.
Rowan is very specific about the qualities that he is
looking for in casting a play by Shakespeare. "I always look for
actors who have a real vocal ability with the verse. I can always
tell when the language is ringing through their whole body. Then I
know I’ve found what I’m looking for. In our culture we tend to talk
on the phone a lot and communicate in disconnected sentences. Our
voices tend to get small and flat. Shakespeare is all about opening
up your instrument." Rowan says he has found a cast that can do
But has Rowan been able to find two Antipholus’s and two Dromios that
can not only "open up their instruments" but also look just
enough alike so that the audience can tell them apart. "Certainly
if I found two sets of twin actors (cause for laughter), then much
of the humor would be lost and the audience wouldn’t be able to tell
the difference. The fun is for the audience to be two steps in front
of the actors at all time. Although the two Antipholus’s in our company
could pass for brothers, a white and an African-American actor are
playing the two Dromios. The racially mixed pair makes for a lovely
moment at the end of the play when one Dromio says to the other, ‘Let’s
go in together, not one before the other.’
The cast features the returning Nell Gwynn, a critically acclaimed
festival actor, about whom the "Star Ledger" wrote (on last
year’s performance in "King Lear"): "Gwynn delivers Elizabethan
language with a clarion voice, making it comprehensible to even the
most untutored ear." In "Errors," she plays Adriana, the
long-suffering wife of playboy Antipholus of Ephesus.
Also in the cast are Jo Benincasa, as Antipholus of Syracuse; Chris
Meyer, as Antipholus of Ephesus; Gaius Charles II, as Dromio of Syracuse;
Jason Henning, as Dromio of Ephesus; Sheryle Wells, as Luciana; plus
Bob Armstrong, Victor Dickerson, Benton Greene, Henning Hegland, Alfredo
Narciso, Carolyn Smith, and Alison White.
Designer Tim Amrheim’s setting will include an Art-Deco hotel and
a fancy beachfront condo; sound designer Ken Travis will accommodate
the pop-rock music of the ’80s, costumer Joanne Haas will be using
a "Miami Vice" look as inspiration, and choreographer Don
Bill will undoubtedly include a conga line.
Although born in New York, Rowan moved with his family to Denver when
he was a youngster. Growing up with theater on his mind isn’t surprising
considering that his mother is a professional actor, who, he says,
appeared in a number of plays he directed in Denver. His younger brother
is currently on the road with the musical "Seussical."
Being named a Drama League Directing Fellow in 1998 brought Rowan
back to New York. He explains, "I was one of four directors chosen
in a very competitive process. We were taken to a different play every
night, introduced to producers, actors, designers, and casting directors,
all as a way of learning what New York theater is about. Each of the
Fellows gets two assistant directing gigs, one off-Broadway and one
at a regional theater. Then we each directed a one-act play and the
quadruple bill was presented as a showcase."
For the last three years, Rowan has been the literary manager at New
York’s Ensemble Studio Theatre, where he recently directed Craig Lucas’s
"Grief" and Deborah Grimberg’s "The Honey Makers,"
in the EST Marathon. The biggest difference he finds in directing
Shakespeare from directing contemporary plays is the preparation to
be able to answer all the questions a cast may ask about Elizabethan
figure of speech and the references.
The only thing he says the audience needs to be prepared for, however,
is laughing. "Isn’t it wonderful that people have been laughing
at Shakespeare’s comedies for 400 years," he says. "It really
connects you to the human experience and history." Yes, I’m thinking,
those two sets of twins swinging to a Latin Beat in the Big Orange
in the ’80s. It may not exactly be "Miami Vice," but it is
history and definitely comedy.
— Simon Saltzman
Pettoranello Amphitheater, Community Park North, Route 206 and Mountain
Avenue, 609-921-3682. Opening night for the summer season of professional
Shakespeare presented free under the stars in the amphitheater in
Pettoranello Gardens. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays
at 8 p.m., to July 13. Friday, June 27, 8 p.m.
The season continues with "The Merry Wives of Windsor," directed
by Victoria Liberatori, with performances Fridays through Sundays,
from August 1 to 17.
Tickets are free with a suggested $10 donation for adults only. Call
for details: 609-921-3682 or visit www.princetonrep.org.
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