Friday, July 15, 2011

Kicks and grins: CSF’s raucous ‘Comedy of Errors’


Tom Coiner and Gary Wright as the Dromio twins from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's production of "The Comedy of Errors." [Photo by Glenn Asakawa/CU Communications]
Dying is easy, comedy is hard. I’ve seen some of the most unlikely actors climb up on the boards and get away with a passable swipe at tragedy. Furrow your brow, deliver your lines in sonorous, halting tones, and you’re a genius.

In comedy, there is one imperative criterion – the audience needs to laugh. They can’t fake it, so you better deliver the yuks.

And, among all bad comedies, nothing is worse than a bad Shakespeare comedy. In them, people prance about, make faces and talk some crazy jargon, and the crowd claps uncomfortably at the end, thinking that it was their fault, that they were too dumb to get the jokes. (We’re talkin’ Shakespeare, after all!)

Bull. The Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s production of “The Comedy of Errors” is flat-out funny, as the theatre gods intended. Thanks to inventive direction and an enthusiastic and skilled ensemble, the laughs come early and often, leaving the audience (gasp!) pleasantly entertained.

The CSF is keeping the overall tone light this year, a smart move in light of these hard conditions as this time is like to lay upon us. “Comedy” is a challenge in several ways. It’s a farfetched farce stolen directly from Roman playwright Plautus’ “The Menaechmi” – two sets of master/servant twins, etc., etc. The mechanics and timing of the thing have to run like clockwork. Fortunately, co-directors Carolyn Howarth and Daniel Stein are in sync and have drilled their performers with precision.

Of the central pairs of twins: Stephen Weitz gets the more enjoyable role of Antipholus of Ephesus, since that character is a bit of a scoundrel. Josh Robinson, as Antipholus of Syracuse, gets the most thankless role in the show – he’s a nice guy, the Zeppo to all the zany Marxses up there.

Tom Coiner and Gary Wright get to have as much fun as they please as the servant Dromios of Ephesus and Syracuse, respectively. Each actor on stage, no matter how brief his or her role, has a defined character and each gets his or her comic moment in the course of things.

Karen Slack steals the show as the beleaguered wife of Antipholus E., Adriana. Her range is wonderful, and here she suffers, simmers, and double-takes like an Elizabethan Alice Kramden. She find worthy support and foils in Amy Handra’s bespectacled Luciana and Leslie O’Carroll’s samurai abbess, Emilia.

It’s also a heck of a complicated story to relate – but the ensemble keeps things clear and straightforward throughout. Andrea Bechert’s standing set has been wisely designed to do double duty for both “Comedy” and “Romeo and Juliet,” which alternates on the outdoor stage this summer.

OK, a couple of caveats. There’s lots of slapstick going on, and much of it is conveyed remotely through the use of . . . well, fish. You have to see it. I am down for Stooge-level pokings and gougings on stage any time, so it was kind of a letdown. You get used to it as the shows goes on.

Six of the ensemble appear as elemental beings who act as stagehands, special-effects artists and crowd members, and one wishes – well – what the hell are they? Their lack of definition, especially in contrast with the sharply defined characters of all with speaking parts, was a bit disconcerting.

But hey, I'm nit-picking. It’s a good time, and you really can’t give much higher of a recommendation than that.
 
“The Comedy of Errors” is presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through Aug. 11 at the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre on the campus of the University of Colorado. For tickets and information, please visit coloradoshakes.org or call 303-492-0554.