Review: `Comedy of Errors’

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These articles were prepared for the June 27, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

For Princeton Rep, Shakespeare on Hold

Did somebody say "Macbeth"? According to

theatrical

lore, this famous curse will bring bad luck whenever it is uttered

in a theater — unless it be to the murderous character himself.

Area theater lovers were asking the question this week when they

discovered

that the 2001 Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival season, previously

announced to begin Thursday, June 28, has been put on hold, hiatus,

or perhaps canceled.

Going into its seventh season, the company will revert to its previous

"Shakespeare in the Square" events, with two performances

of "As You Like It" scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, August

25 and 26, at 2 p.m., on the Green at Palmer Square.

Last summer’s free Shakespeare festival, held for the

first time at Community Park North Amphitheater off of Route 206,

featured 16 performances each of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream"

and "The Taming of the Shrew" and garnered excellent reviews.

Princeton Rep reports that the season drew an audience that totaled

more than 12,000. And therein lies the rub.

The amphitheater, with a capacity of 450, is set in Community Park

North and Pettoranello Gardens. The Princeton Recreation Board, the

park’s landlord, has denied Princeton Rep permission to use the

facility

this year and cites parking, traffic, electrical supply, and liability

among the problem issues.

"We have a hit. Shakespeare is wanted in this community,"

says executive producer Anne Reiss. "But we were told, `You were

too successful.’ We are extremely disappointed that we cannot

follow-up

on the tremendous momentum that built throughout last summer’s

festival."

"They did a tremendous job last year, but it was very much an

impromptu event and there was not enough electricity, lighting, size,

and scope for the scale of the theater productions they were putting

on," says James Roberts, director of the Princeton Recreation

Department. "They managed to pull it off with great success, but

it indicated to us that there is a substantial amount of improvement

that has to take place before we can actively accept something of

that size and scope."

"The issue at hand is whether or not that park is large enough

to handle the scope of what Princeton Rep is proposing. We are not

sure whether or not we’re going to make any improvements. We have

to do the research on what we would have to do to bring the park up

to a certain standard of safety and how much that would cost,"

he says. "It’s a double edge sword, the better they do, the more

people come, and this park site is just not very big."

Roberts says a $60,000 line item in the capital budget has been set

aside "to lay the groundwork for the Recreation Department and

the Shakespeare Festival to go out and see what sort of improvements

meet their demands but do not detract from the esthetics of the

park."

The cost of the improvements, however, is unrelated to whether or

not the board deems the site suitable to return the festival there

in the future.

Reiss says she is "especially concerned that our audiences and

funders realize we exhausted all possibilities for alternative outdoor

spaces in the Princetons to host a full summer of Shakespeare."

Fleet Bank has funded this programing "from the beginning,"

says Reiss. "We could not have gotten out to Pettoranello in 2000

without them." The group’s steering committee and board want it

to return to Pettoranello.

Reiss says the group has "aggressively attempted to locate and

negotiate alternative outdoor venues" that could tide it over

during the renovation process. Of the nine locations that the company

investigated — including Carnegie Center, the Bristol-Myers Squibb

campus, and Westminster Choir College — none proved viable.

Princeton

University has been helpful but, as Reiss is quick to point out, 104

outside organizations use the university’s facilities during the

summer.

"We’re still going to be producing this summer. We’re not going

away. We continue to hope that we will be able to do a full production

of `As You Like It’ in August. We may possibly have to go indoors

to do so," adds artistic director Victoria Liberatori.

"Since its founding 15 years ago, Princeton Rep has been nomadic,

not out of choice, but out of necessity," says Liberatori. The

group has presented at the Arts Council of Princeton, in Princeton

University, and with site-specific productions. In 1995 the group

began working with David Newton, vice president of Palmer Square

Management,

who, they say, "helped us grow the festival." But the group

then outgrew the Palmer Square space. "We thought last year that

the Community Park Amphitheater site would become our home base."

In a statement published on its website, the Rep offers

an optimistic interpretation of the decision: "To preserve the

natural beauty and integrity of the amphitheater and in respect of

the hard work of the Pettoranello Garden volunteers, the Princeton

Recreation Board and Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival jointly agreed

to address ways to better accommodate the public. The Princeton

Recreation

Board anticipates Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival’s return to

Community

Park North in the summer of 2002."

The Princeton Recreation Board requested that Princeton Rep submit

plans for the improvement of the Community Park North Amphitheater,

including infrastructure renovations, such as the installation of

a stage and an upgraded electrical supply system. Designer Lisa

Fishetti

of Broadmead Design, a member of the Princeton Rep steering committee,

and her husband, architect Ralph Lerner, dean of Princeton’s

Architecture

School, volunteered to present renovation plans to the Recreation

Department for consideration.

"This [the plans] came to us three weeks ago, but we haven’t had

time to look at it," says Roberts. "This is not a good time

for us; we have new programs beginning every day through the end of

June."

He says that at a monthly meeting in the near future (perhaps August,

September, or October) the eight-member joint Recreation Board,

representing

both borough and township, would "evaluate cost versus the good

of having Shakespeare in town and weigh it against environmental

concerns."

If the board recommends the improvements, cost estimates and bids

would be requested. Whether or not improvements would be ready for

the 2002 season, says Roberts, "depends on the size and scope

of improvements."

Another element of the controversy relates to the 13 acres of the

park that have been taken over by the Pettoranello Foundation, a

volunteer

group that has rebuilt the Pettoranello Garden section of the park.

"They are concerned," says Roberts, "and their concerns

are similar to ours. Nobody can think of anything negative to say

about Shakespeare, Shakespeare outdoors, nor the group that’s

producing

it. But we are landlords of the park and we have to be careful."

Princeton Rep’s Shakespeare Downtown Education Workshops for children

from Princeton and surrounding areas, as well as for children from

St. Patrick School in Jersey City and from Martin House Learning

Center

in Trenton, will take place from July 10 to August 10 on the Princeton

University campus and culminate with an August 17 presentation. (Call

609-921-3682 to register).

Roberts says his message to the group in essence is this: "We

love what you do, but we’re not sure there’s a suitable site in

Princeton

for what you want to do."

— Nicole Plett

Top Of Page
Review: `Comedy of Errors’

The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival is off to a merrily

complex and geometric start with "Comedy of Errors," one of

the Bard’s earliest plays. The most delightful conceit of this

production

is the homage that set designer Charles Townsend Wittreich Jr. pays

to M.C. Escher, the Dutch graphic artist known for his mesmerizing

spatial illusions and geometric patterns (known as tessellation) seen

in his internationally popular lithographs and woodcuts.

Fans of Escher will immediately recognize the tribute that the setting

pays to Escher’s woodcut "Waterfall," with its skewed

sectional

structure, impossible stairs, ladders, levels and platforms that lead,

as often as not, to nowhere as they do to somewhere. For added mirth

there, the set includes decorative designs inspired by the lithograph

"Liberation," with its birds in flight. This is not to imply

that your eyes (often dazzled by lighting designer Heath Hansum’s

enhancements) will be more entertained than your ears which have only

to listen to a mere 1,778 lines in this, Shakespeare’s briefest play.

Escher, like Shakespeare, never made claim to being a mathematician,

but like the Bard, toyed with the illusions created by intricate

patterns

(read that psychological as well as material). Certainly the

ingeniously

inane complexity of Shakespeare’s "A Comedy of Errors" is

perfectly suited to the world of Escher, in which what you see at

first, is not necessarily all that there is to see. This farce-comedy

deals with two sets of identical twins and the errors of identity

that ensue. Happily there are few errors of comedy to be found in

the staging by Brian B. Crowe, who is making his festival mainstage

debut. Crowe, whose psychologically probing adaptation of

"Wonderland

(and what was found there)" for the Festival’s Other Stage, was

admired by this critic in 1999, is not taking any such investigative

approach to the Bard’s silliest of situation comedies.

This is the first production of "The Comedy of Errors" at

the Festival since 1993 when artistic director Bonnie J. Monte

directed

a fondly remembered Fellini-esque version. As Crowe introduces the

citizens of Ephesus, one can perceive them as wind-up figurines

encased

in a large cuckoo clock, each programmed to follow courses both

erratic

and frenetic as devised by forces beyond their control, and each

character

costumed in riotously colored 19th-century regalia by designer Amanda

Whidden. Even as the pace and activity takes precedence and supersedes

the plight of individuals, there is an ample taste of identities in

the making. As expected, the play’s convolutions conspire toward more

confusion. Indulge them, as they are conspicuously, impressively and

aggressively generated with more vigor and vitality in the second

half than in the first half.

The acting is not about to get lost in the maze under Crowe’s

attentive

control, as artfully precise as was silent film director Mack

Sennett’s

commands to the Keystone Cops. A series of madcap misadventures ensues

following the arrest in Ephesus, of Egeon (William Metzo), a merchant

of Syracuse who was separated during a shipwreck from his wife and

one of his infant twin sons 18 years before. Clark Carmichael is

splendid

as the increasingly perplexed Antipholus, the lost twin, who has grown

up and married Adriana, renowned for her venomous clamors. In full

throttle, as Adriana, Veronica Watt doesn’t spare us either the

madness

or the jealousy of nature. That they live next to the best little

bordello in Ephesus doesn’t help their relationship. Sue Brady gets

plenty of laughs as the French-accented (no apologies to Maurice

Chevalier

needed) lusty courtesan.

With a clarion-like voice and a glare that suggest anything but

sanctuary,

Corinne Edgerly is standout as Antipholus’ mother Emilia (Corinne

Edgerly) and long-missing wife of Aegeon who has since become an

abbess

in a neighboring priory. Antony Hagopian, who may remind you of Danny

Kaye, is a comical amalgam of perplexity and frustration as the other

twin, also named Antipholus, who has remained single up to the point

where the play begins. Both, however, are masters to identical twin

servants, played with complementary impish impudence by Kevin

Henderson

and Tony Finn. Full of airs and regal attitudes, Michael McKenzie

makes a good impression as the Duke of Ephesus who is holding Egeon

for ransom because of some silly feud between the cities. When Egeon’s

son arrives with his servant, in the same town where his brother and

servant live, they become victims of mistaken identity.

All ends well as the amorous and available Antipholus (you know, the

one from Syracuse) finds love with Adriana’s surprisingly unruffled

sister Luciana (sweetly played by Amanda Ronconi). True enough that

this play is short on characterization but long on verse speeches.

But Crowe’s conceptual ideas are sound and they resound like polished

acts in a three ring circus.

— Simon Saltzman

The Comedy of Errors, New Jersey Shakespeare

Festival,

F.M. Kirby Theater, Drew University, Madison, 973-408-5600. On the

Web: www.njshakespeare.org. $18 to $41 Through July 1.


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