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This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the July 9, 2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `Comedy of Errors’

We came into the world like brother and brother,"

says Dromio of Ephesus to his twin brother Dromio of Syracuse. "And

now let’s go hand in hand, not one before another."

Despite the play’s sweeping range of madcap misdirection, the concept

of brothers, lost and found, is at the heart of "The Comedy of

Errors." With its current production of one of Shakespeare’s earliest

plays, the Princeton Rep Company gets the most bang for its brotherly

buck with fine performances by two sets of actors — Jo Benincasa

and Christopher Pollard Meyer as the Antipholus twins, and Gaius Charles

II and Jason Henning as the two Dromios. Besides some other excellent

performances, the production sports some fast-paced and true laugh-inducing

direction as well as a host of subtle, yet visually potent, design

elements.

Now in its third full season of presenting Shakespeare under the stars,

Princeton Rep’s "The Comedy of Errors," updated to a Latin

beat and set in the DayGlo paradise of mid-1980s Miami, can be seen

onstage at the amphitheater in Princeton’s Pettoranello Gardens on

Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, at 8 p.m. through July 13. Tickets

are free, with a suggested donation of $10. Call 609-921-3682.

In order to best enjoy "The Comedy of Errors," an audience

must first be willing to set aside any need for storyline plausibility

because Shakespeare’s farce has enough mistaken identity and mischance

to make a sit-com writer blush. Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse (Bob

Armstrong), is arrested and sentenced to death by Solinus, the Duke

of Ephesus (Benton Greene). But moved by Egeon’s story of losing his

wife and one of his twin sons (both named Antipholus) in a shipwreck

many years earlier, the Duke grants him 24 hours to procure ransom

money and save his life.

But unbeknownst to Egeon — and to all concerned — both Antipholuses

are currently in Ephesus, now located on the East Coast of Florida.

The possibilities of confusion are increased by the presence of the

two Dromios, twin servants to the twin nobles. Adding still more layers

to the muddle is that each set of twins, by pure chance, wears matching

outfits.

Shakespeare exploits this wholly unlikely situation with dizzying

speed. Adriana (Nell Gwynn), the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, mistakenly

dines with Antipholus of Syracuse, who subsequently makes love to

Adrian’s sister Luciana (Sheryle Wells). Angelo (Alfredo Narciso),

sells a gold chain to one twin which winds up in the hands of the

other. When in need of payment to save himself from being arrested,

Angelo misguidedly demands money from the wrong Antipholus. Further

misadventures, morphed into the 1980s, involve a she-devilish courtesan

(Carolyn Smith), a hip-hop drug dealer (Victor Dickerson), a beach

security guard (Henning Hegland), and Emilia (Alison White), an abbess

in the church along the boardwalk, who also happens to be the long-lost

wife of Egeon.

While not exactly mirror images of one another, both Benincasa and

Meyer turn in equally strong performances. Benincasa’s Antipholus

seems to be a bit more whimsical, while Meyer’s adds endearing dashes

of agitated befuddlement. Both deliver the Shakespearean dialogue

with a light touch, easily picking out the comic passages, and making

it seem as natural as if it were coming out of the mouth of Jack Tripper

in the old "Three’s Company" TV show.

Being two of Shakespeare’s comic clowns — who in

this case wear multi-color beachwear and clutch skateboards —

the two Dromios come across as a bit more cartoonish, yet they’re

still believable in this unbelievable play. While neither actor looks

anything like the other in a physical sense, both have one another’s

mannerisms down pat — adding spice to the theatrical soup.

Nell Gwynn and Sheryle Wells, as the pleasantly self-absorbed ladies,

provide their own brand of broad fun as does a chillingly glamorous

Benton Greene as the Duke and the Conjuror, Doctor Pinch. Victor Dickerson

and Carolyn Smith give memorable, workmanlike performances in their

small roles.

The set and costume design add a Fauve-like filmic quality to the

presentation that is lovely to look at. Deceptively simple, Tim Amrhein’s

set recreates the aura of an oceanside resort using bold colors of

blue, purple, green, beige, aqua, and yellow. There is even a string

of pink flamingo lights dangling across a breezeway.

Joanne Haas’ costumes add even more texture to the visual strength

of the show, from a sleekly refined purple suit worn by the Duke to

the Don Johnson-like sportcoat over a T-shirt on each Antipholus.

Troy A. Martin-O’Shia’s sensitive lighting makes the whole thing glow

in the summer night, strikingly bordered on opening night by a field

of flickering fireflies. Sound quality is markedly better this season

due to some welcome electrical upgrades to the amphitheater.

Director Tom Rowan keeps the pace moving nicely, punctuating moments

of Shakespearean poignancy with tasteful bits of light 1980s comedy

along with an occasional dance number. Usually Rowan stops just short

of truly campy, but some touches — such as the repeated sound

of an angelic choir blaring out with every opening of the church door

— tend to wear a bit thin.

Nonetheless, "The Comedy of Errors" is a fun show that tastes

like candy, yet remains respectfully aware that Shakespeare is, after

all, high art.

A few words of advice to those attending the show — come early

because parking is limited, bring a cushion to sit on, and apply plenty

of mosquito repellent.

— Jack Florek

Comedy of Errors, Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival,

Pettoranello Amphitheater, Community Park North, Route 206 at Mountain

Avenue, 609-921-3682. July 11-13, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at

8 p.m. Free, but $10 donation requested.


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