It might be an understatement to say that Bill Shakespeare is a writer of great breadth. He is possibly one of the greatest authors of tragedies for the stage. His histories fascinate with specific propaganda of the time, and his comedies will make sides split from laughter. It’s like Gene Wilder, Herman Wouk and Oliver Stone all rolled into one incredibly prolific brain.
Cape Fear Shakespeare on the Green, our annual outdoor Shakespeare festival, has decided to go full bore for the laughs this year with “Comedy of Errors.” Directed by Robb Mann, it yields slapstick comedy about mistaken identity and strained relationships, and it keeps the laughs coming all night.
Aegeon (Josh Baily) is stranded in Syracuse looking for his son, Antipholus (Nick Reed), and his son’s slave, Dromio (Alissa Featherolf) who had journeyed there. However, Anitpholus’ identical twin brother of the same name (Luke Robbins) and Dromio’s twin brother of the same name (Patrick Basquill) are at large in the city. The two sets of identical twins keep unknowingly encountering each other and much hilarity ensues. In one instance, Adriana (Ashley Burton), the wife of one Antipholus, mistakes the other for him, which results in multiple arrests.
It can be difficult to find two actors that favor each other enough for one set of identical twins to be believable. So finding four performers who resemble each other is really tough. Thankfully, we have such a strong and thriving theatre scene, with a large pool to pull from. Reed and Robbins both have that lean, tall, dark, and handsome look going with just enough difference in their mannerisms to believe they were raised apart.
Dromios Featherolf and Basquill are close in height and coloring. Basquill’s over-the-top struggles for survival reflect their differences in the circumstance. Robbins and Basquill’s relationship is more strident than Reed and Fetherolf’s, which seems more dependent and teamwork-oriented.
In his director’s note, Mann mentions that casting is as close as it can be, and the rest is up to the audience for a willing suspension of disbelief. Honestly, that is within the best traditions of our Bard. The prologue of “Henry IV” asks the audience to:
“Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts. Into a thousand parts divide one man, and make imaginary puissance. Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them printing their proud hoofs i’ th’ receiving earth, for ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, carry them here and there, jumping o’er times, Turning th’ accomplishment of many years into an hour-glass; for the which supply, Admit me chorus to this history; Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray gently to hear, kindly to judge our play.”
Physical comedy is the name of the game in “Comedy of Errors,” but far and away the person onstage who transcends boundaries more than anyone else is Basquill. Jackie Gleason’s biography was titled “The Golden Ham,” and I think Basquill is Wilmington’s Golden Ham. Louder, bigger, crazier— even these words do not come close to the energy he exudes as he runs through the audience and around the back of the amphitheater. He must be exhausted by the end of the night. However, Featherolf and Reed have provided an expert vaudeville style of physical comedy that depends upon both of them to make it work. They are really a joy to watch together onstage.
Obviously a show about twins is heavily laden with foils and doubles. Not just through the twins, but there are two merchants, two parents, and, of course, two sisters (whom the two Antipholuses are married to); all are essential to the story structure.
Ashley Burton as the wife of Robbins’ Antipholus quickly convinces the audience that he is justified in seeking solace with his friends and a courtesan (Meredith McKee). She is frightening, overwhelming and generally just unpleasant. When compared to her pretty, sweet, kind, and thoughtful sister (Tamica Katzmann), it is easy to see how our Bard viewed womanhood: harpies or submissive airheads; those are the choices. Burton and Katzmann bring the options to life beautifully, though one starts to think that maybe the passion in Burton and Robbins’ relationship is more desirable than the caricature-like simplicity of Reed and Katzmann’s growing attachment.
Mann embraces the cartoonish aspects of the script with a set that is of itself an homage to Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts.” It includes “The Doctor is IN” set-up from Lucy for Dr. Pinch, a Jimmy-Swaggart-style faith healing quack played by Caylan McKay. Aside from his theatrical approach to medicine, his compulsive eating disorder entertains.
If anything, the assortment of minor characters, including Mickey Johnson’s assistant to Dr. Pinch, Elyse Rodriguez as the wronged goldsmith, and Kire’ Ann Stenson’s Capone-style money lender, truly delight. Mann’s attention to these characters serves as a testament to his vision: It’s the details that make the picture come into focus.
“Comedy of Errors,” unlike many of Shakespeare’s shows, has no sub-plot, no play within a play; rather, it is a story about mistaken identities and the havoc wrought on one town. In the meantime, it asks the basic questions of the human experience: Who am I? Am I the person I think I am or the person others think I am? Who can I really depend upon? What are these social obligations that we agree to, and are we truly bound by them? Though steeped with philosophy, the production asks them with great humor. The answers, though profound, are entertaining enough to stay with us.
For a lovely evening filled with laughter and joy, pack a picnic basket and head out to Shakespeare on the Green at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater.
Comedy of Errors
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
1941 Amphitheater Dr.
Thurs.-Sun., June 19th-22nd and 26th-29th, 8 p.m. • Free