The Riotous Side of Shakespeare Is at Hartford Stage

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson

By Karen Isaacs

 Want silly fun?  Then head up to Hartford Stage for Darko Tresnjak’s production of Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors running through Sunday, Feb. 12.

An early work by Shakespeare, it draws on Roman comedies. It’s all about mistaken identities, slapstick and puns.

The plot is complex yet simple. A couple had twin sons and within days of their birth, purchased from a poor woman her twin sons to grow up as the servants of the boys. Soon after, during a sea voyage the ship is damaged – the wife with one son and one servant is picked up by another boat while the father with the remaining son and servant manage to return to Syracuse, a Greek city. It is now many years later when the father arrives in Ephesus (now part of Turkey) to search for his son who had left home seven years ago to try to find his brother.

But there is a law in Ephesus that forbids people from Syracuse from entering; the punishment is death but the duke gives the father (Aegeon) one day to raise the fine that will buy his freedom. Next we meet Antipholus of Syracuse who has just arrived with his servant, Dromio, to search for his brother.  Before we can blink an eye, the confusions begin to occur because his brother Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant Dromio are also in the city. Soon everything is confused. Adriana, the wife of the Ephesean Antipholus finds the Syracusian one; Antipholus of Ephesus thinks Dromio of Syracuse is HIS servant, and the reverse also happens.  Antipholus of Syracuse finds himself attracted to the sister (Luciana) of the wife of the local Antipolus; Luciana returns the attraction but is conflicted about letting her supposed brother-in-law woo her.

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Adriana (Jolly Abraham) and Luciana (Mahira Kakkar). Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Of course, by the end of this short play – even shorter in this production – everything is straightened out. The two brothers and the two servants are reunited, the father is saved and finds his long lost wife, and the two women are about become not only sisters but sisters-in-law.

Tresnjak has capitalized on the comic elements. Unlike many Shakespeare comedies this really does not have any message about relationships, courtship or marriage. It is all exuberant fun.

Entering the theater, you see the spectacular set designed by Tresnjak. It shows a village in typical Mediterranean colors, three boats, the appearance of a canal (with real water!) and a walkway around it. It is all bright and cheerful and it signals you are in for a rollicking good time.

The play begins with two sailors making music; soon a courtesan comes down to the pier and sings and dances the popular Greek movie song, “Never on Sunday.” It gives us a clue to Tresnjak’s inspiration. He  has moved the play to the 1960s – thus the cigarettes, the allusions to films like “Never on Sunday,”  “Tokapi” and “Zorba, the Greek.”

We are off to the races. We have chases, scuba divers, courtesans and more. We have “beatings” that look like burlesque fights with rubber cudgels and more.

The one flaw in this fast paced production is that some of the Shakespeare gets lost. With the Greek accents and the multiple things going on, it is sometimes difficult to understand the lines.  This may not be Shakespeare’s greatest poetry but it deserves to be heard.

The highlights of this production are the visual elements. In addition to the set, you have the 1960s costumes by Fabio Toblini as well as the wigs by Tom Watson and the makeup by Tommy Kurman.  Matthew Richards’ lighting gives us the feeling of that Mediterranean sun. It makes you feel warm.

In addition we have terrific music composed and arranged by Alexander Svoronsky and choreography by Peggy Hickey. This isn’t a musical comedy – Rodgers and Hart did that with The Boys from Syracuse – but there is music and dance.

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The cast is overall excellent from Paula Leggett Chase as Mercuri-like courtesan through the more shrewish wife (Jolly Abraham) and the more staid sister (Mahira Kakkar). But it really all depends on the two Dromios and the two Antipoluses. Alan Schmuckler (Dromio of Syracuse) and Matthew Macca (Dromio of Ephesus) totally embrace the burlesque aspects of their roles. Ryan-James Hatanaka plays the put upon husband, Antipholus of Syracuse and Tyler Lansing Weaks an as the bewildered Antipholus of Ephesus. Each are basically the straight men to the physical comedy of the Dromios.

This may not be the perfect production of this play, but it does capture all of its laughter and its colorful sets and costumes will make you think of the warm Mediterranean coast. What more could we want in the middle of winter?

A Comedy of Errors is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford through Sunday, Feb. 12. For tickets visit Hartford Stage.

This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

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