Dram Tree Shakespeare opened their annual production this past weekend at DREAMS Garage on Fanning Street. Last year’s much-lauded and highly successful run of “The Tempest” is a tough act to follow, but “The Comedy of Errors” manages to stay within their high-end creative output with its zany, fun antics.
Directed by Kathryn (KC) MacMillan, the production embraces vaudeville from the curtain speech to the closing bow. The setup of “The Comedy of Errors” comes from a monologue by Egeon (Lee Lowrimore) as he explains he and his wife had a set of identical twin boys (the Antipholuses). They also acquired a set of identical twin boys to be raised as slaves for their children (the Dromios). In a storm at sea, the parents tied themselves to masts of the ship with one Dromio and Antipholus each. They were separated, and Egeon raised his son and Dromio without any word from his missing wife, other son or Dromio in many years. Lowrimore recounts the story to the Duke of Ephesus (Norman Aronovic) and his Duchess (Clare Kiley) as he begs to have his life spared for appearing in Ephesus—thus putting his life in danger (warring city states are prone to such problems). So the show presents two sets of separated identical twins and a grieving father with a death sentence. What could possibly complicate things further?
Antipholus of Syracuse (Tyler Crittenden) and his Dromio (Katherine Rosner) step ashore in Ephesus and receive a very different welcome than Egeon. After sending Dromio off to secure their accommodations, Anitpholus of Syracuse is startled when confronted by what he perceives to be his servant, Dromio, bidding him to come home to dinner. It is actually the Dromio of Ephesus (Kire Stenson), who is just as baffled by his response. DOE reports back to his mistress, the alluring Adriana (Isabel Zermani) and her sister Luciana (Tamica Katzmann), that Antipholus denied all knowledge of home and family, and refused to dine. It confirms for Adriana her husband has strayed from her. Though one would have to imagine any man who would do that to be deranged. Zermani’s Adriana is a stunning, stylish redhead. Add in a demeanor just bitchy enough to be commanding and any man would be hooked. Katzmann’s Luciana is the sweet, gentle half of this dynamic duo, who with dark beauty finds herself in a world of trouble with the confused sets of twins and her sister.
Meanwhile Antipholus of Ephesus (Sam Robison) strikes a deal with the local Goldsmith (Zeb Mims) for a chain of gold for a local Courtesan (Mirla Criste). Mims plays the Goldsmith with a parody of a New York mobster’s accent and inflection which actually works really well with the text. Meanwhile, Criste’s early striptease to establish her character is tantalizing and stylized. Though she doesn’t actually reveal anything that would make the number inappropriate for a family audience, it did leave me wishing she had choreographed the strippers in the recent production of “Gypsy.” Complete with fringe in constant motion, the imagination distractedly ran wild.
In the meantime, the two Antipholuses keep getting confused for each other by their respective Dromios, family, friends, and neighbors. Mistaken identity runs amok and people get arrested. A quack, Dr. Pinch (Lee Lowrimore) is brought in to treat the obvious mental illness of Antipholus of Ephesus. Lowrimore channels Groucho Marx as Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush, to the audience’s evident delight. Eventually, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse seek sanctuary with the Abbess (Jemila Ericson), who almost steals the show (and that is saying a lot) with her insanity. But this is Shakespeare, so after much confusion, excitement, rushing about, and general hilarity, the problems will get sorted out and everyone will live happily ever after (mostly).
One of the challenges with “The Comedy of Errors” is finding two sets of performers who look enough alike, and act enough alike, to convincingly play identical twins. Tyler Crittenden and Sam Robison as the Antipholuses are fun. Crittenden’s Antipholus gets the better end of the deal (no jail time, for example), and he takes in stride all the gifts heaped upon him with a joyful grin. Robison is really in each moment of anger, frustration, confusion, and ultimately reconciliation. His commitment makes moments lifelike and the story palpable. But the Dromios are by far my favorite part of the show. (Well, except for the interlude with Lily Zuckerman walking the most adorable dog in the world.) Stenson and Rosner are a wonderful combination of humor and they’re incredibly adorable. I felt terrible for their enslaved state, and even more so for their complete inability to not wind up on the receiving end of someone’s foot. Every time either walked onstage, mirth followed.
Linda Carlisle Markas provides piano accompaniment for the show, as well as occasional percussion and accordion. In many ways, she is the through line for the company, and provides a constant thread of musical accents and commentary.
For many people Shakespeare’s language is intimidating. Part of good, live productions of the Bard’s work is making it accessible visually and hopefully making the language resonate. “The Comedy of Errors” succeeds admirably on both of fronts. It’s a solid entryway to his work that will make it all fit together. Folks will leave laughing and happier than when they arrived, guaranteed.