Regional Reviews: New Jersey
The Comedy of Errors
The Comedy of Errors is exceptionally heavy in expositional material which is inherently more difficult to follow than we have come to expect from Outdoor Stage productions. It is not uncommon for theater companies to include plot synopses in their printed programs, and such would have been most helpful for this production which opens with a rapid-fire, plot-laden monologue and wraps up the entire play in just under two hours including an intermission. For those new to or a bit rusty on this classic, the following partial synopsis should be useful.
The setting is Ephesus where the Duke of Solinus has placed under arrest the middle-aged Aegeon, a merchant of Syracuse with whom Ephesus is at war. Aegeon is to be executed unless a ransom is paid for him by that evening. The desperate Aegeon pleads his case to Solinus. In his youth, Aegeon and his wife became the parents of twin sons. Aegeon named both of their sons Antipholus. They also bought another pair of newly born twins to be attendants to their sons and named each Dromio.
While this family was traveling home, they were shipwrecked in a storm. Aegeon managed to reach shore safely with one Aegeon and one Dromio, but never saw his wife or the other Antipholus and Dromio again. Unknown to them, the lost Antipholus and Dromio have been living in Ephesus for many years where the prosperous and philandering Antipholus is married to Adriana. Both Dromios remain servants to their respective Antipholus.
Aegeon is not aware that his Syracusan Antipholus and Dromio have reached Ephesus while searching for their long-lost brothers. Nor are the latter aware that Aegeon is there on the same quest. When the Syracusan Antipholus and Dromio are mistaken by all the Ephesians for their local counterparts, the Syracusans believe that they are the victims of witchcraft, odd romantic complications develop, and the farcical fireworks spiral.
Rather than concentrate on the basic difficulties inherent to The Comedy of Errors, veteran director Brian B. Crowe has ambitiously sought to bring new ideas to this production. The biggest of them is to have each set of twins played by the same actor. On the affirmative side, the performances in each role (as well as the costumes richly and comically designed by Paul Canada) clearly delineate differences in the character of each twin. Furthermore, The Dromios are played with a delightfully fresh comic flourish by female actor Billie Wyatt whose Syracusan twin has a blithe, more country bumpkin aspect than his Ephesian counterpart. Similarly, Jeffrey Marc Alkins provides us with a handsome, haughty, and hot-tempered Ephesian Antipholus and a romantically shy Syracusan one.
Among the solid supporting cast, Marcella Cox brings a bubbly enthusiasm to the roles of both an Abbess at Ephesus and a Courtesan; Katja Yacker brings a bright sparkle to the role of Luciana (sister-in-law of Ephesian Antipholus); and Isaac Hickox-Young as a humane Solinus makes memorable contributions. Many of the cast members adroitly double and triple in smaller roles, and even combine to form a comedic caucus to enhance the spirited high jinks.
However, the idea of having one actor portray each set of brothers proves problematic. There are scenes in which each or both sets of brothers appear on stage (particularly extensive ones in the play's latter scenes), and the play's impact and the audience concentration are diminished by the distraction of the use of awkwardly upstage-facing doubles and blocking props to keep the faces of the doubling actors from our view. Despite the fine work in performance and costume delineation, it came to my attention that some children were unaware throughout the first act that there was more than one Antipholus and one Dromio.
Thus, it is my recommendation that you "brush up your Shakespeare," and then head over to the STNJ for The Comedy of Errors, a lively, inventive evening of theatre brimming with highly exuberant slapstick humor, performed by a lively and talented cast of youthful Shakespearean actors.
The Comedy of Errors runs through August 1, 2021, at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey Outdoor Stage The Greek Theatre in Morris Township, on the campus of The College of Saint Elizabeth, 2 Convent Road, Convent Station NJ. For tickets and information, visit shakespearenj.org or call 973-408-5600.