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Monday, April 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 59.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
Arts

THEATER

American Players Theatre gets big laughs with The Comedy of Errors

The decision to treat Shakespeare's somewhat loopy work about mistaken identities as a madcap 1940s comedy turns out to be a great one.
The decision to treat Shakespeare's somewhat loopy work about mistaken identities as a madcap 1940s comedy turns out to be a great one.
Credit:Zane Williams
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The opening night of The Comedy of Errors suggests why American Players Theatre is successful even in this challenging economy. Audience members are willing to drive out to Spring Green and trudge up the hill because they are guaranteed a quality performance and will often be treated to something special.

I could easily blow my entire word allotment with a synopsis of Shakespeare's play, but essentially it's about two sets of identical twins who have been separated during a storm at sea. Their father is apprehended while searching for the mixed set that he's raised (biological son Antipholus of Syracuse and servant Dromio), who took off seven years earlier to find their brothers. Everyone ends up in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, where the other Antipholus and Dromio have been living since childhood.

Initially I was concerned that director William Brown's production was a little too stylized and coy for my taste, but the show won me over and was entertaining and funny right through to the charming curtain calls. The decision to treat Shakespeare's somewhat loopy work about mistaken identities as a madcap 1940s comedy turns out to be a great one. The zaniness of mistaken identities (times four) lends itself well to this screwball take with clever physical comedy, kooky characters, double entendres and a few fart jokes. I often laughed out loud (as did the rest of the enthusiastic audience) and also found myself dabbing my eyes at the outcome.

I developed a critic's crush on Steve Haggard during APT's last season, and my affection for his acting grew exponentially with this production. Playing the servant Dromio of Syracuse, who is searching for both his twin and his master's twin, Haggard is hilarious (a word I rarely use). His scene describing the woman who might become his wife is a gem. His facial expressions alone are inspired, but when coupled with his loosey-goosey line readings, he is someone who makes Shakespeare accessible and contemporary.

How lucky for APT to have Darragh Kennan playing the other Dromio, because he is an appealing comic actor, and the two really do resemble each other. Brothers in real life, Marcus and Andy Truschinski skillfully handle the Antipholus roles. Marcus is teamed up with Haggard, and they have real chemistry playing off each other. Carey Cannon as Adriana (the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus) strikes just the right tone as a frustrated spouse who gets caught up in the tangle of identities. Also charming is Susan Shunk as Adriana's sister.

The production looks and sounds smart. I loved scenic designer Kevin Depinet's Iznik tiles and costume designer Devon Painter's Turkish touches and 1940s dresses. Andrew Hansen's sound design and original music are also employed quite effectively.

I'm looking forward to APT's other offerings this season but feel the entertainment bar was set high with this very amusing show, which managed to make my somewhat cynical, non-theater-fan husband laugh.

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