KC MacMillan has never directed the same play twice—and wouldn’t necessarily want to; however, she’d likely make an exception for the Bard. “It’s quite a lot of work up front to understand the references and track the poetic meter throughout,” she explains. “I imagine having that work done—to start a process understanding the play very deeply—would be an advantage to unlocking additional creativity and discovery.”
MacMillan is currently pairing Shakespeare and vaudeville for Dram Tree Shakespeare’s production of “The Comedy of Errors.” The show opens at The Garage at DREAMS on April 13 and runs until April 30.
One of the Bard’s earliest and shortest plays, “The Comedy of Errors” is full of slapstick humour, puns and wordplay. Two sets of identical twins are separated at birth, and audiences meet them as adults wherein they encounter a series of wild mishaps based on mistaken identities. While the vaudevillian stage works well for this classic farce, each play MacMillan directs is very much shaped by the actors who inhabit character roles.
Antipholus of Syracuse (Tyler Crittenden) and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse (Katherine Rosner), find themselves in the home city of their twin siblings, Antipholus of Ephesus (Sam Robison) and Dromio of Ephesus (Kiré Stenson). While the cast of characters aren’t necessarily transforming themselves into twins who are exactly the same people—remember, they grew up separately—Rosner says it’s been fun exploring sibling connections, which DNA ensures exists despite variation of environments to which they’re exposed.
“[Kiré Stenson and I] have been playing with mirroring each other,” she tells, “and trying to figure out how to be connected in the ways only long lost twins can be.”
encore talked with MacMillan and Rosner to learn more about their take on one of Shakespeare’s oldest comedies.
encore (e): Of all of the Bard’s works, where does this one land among favorites?
KC MacMillan (KM): My plays are like my children: Whichever one is in front of me at the moment is my favorite. (This philosophy probably reveals I should never have actual children.) I do enjoy Shakespeare’s early comedies, as this play is. My most recent Shakespeare was another early comedy, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” performed outside in a huge park, for 800 to 1,200 people a night. There’s something immersive and fast-paced about these shows that makes them good for a crowd. They aren’t layered with the complexity that makes Shakespeare’s more sophisticated comedies so beautiful … but can render them less laugh-out-loud funny for a contemporary audience. There’s lots of action in the plot of “The Comedy of Errors,” and that’s always fun to create—and to watch.
e: What artistic liberties are you taking with this production to achieve that vaudevillian feel?
KM: My confidence in the concept comes from the fact we don’t have to take many liberties. Vaudeville and the comedic styles Shakespeare drew from, they share the same DNA: familiar archetypes (the guy who’s too easily angered, his dumb sidekick, a grumpy old man) are tropes of both the Roman plays Shakespeare drew from, and the stock characters of the vaudeville stage. Sure, we add some spectacle—there will be live music, some song and dance, even a strongman and a semi-trained animal. But we adhere to the spirit of Shakespeare’s world and honor his language vigorously. There are bits of Shakespeare’s writing that would be at home on a vaudeville stage. In fact, there were dramatists who would perform Shakespearean scenes as their vaudeville acts in the teens and 1920s.
It brings me great joy as an artist to work on a classical piece, to honor it in its own time period and yet to reveal to an audience, without altering or simplifying it, how accessible and relevant the play is to contemporary life and experience. It’s a kind of work I especially love to do.
e: What can audiences expect in terms of costuming and scenery?
KM: Unity. When all the design elements work in harmony, it can be very transporting. Gary Ralph Smith, a set designer who works in Wilmington often, is a certified genius. Not only has he created a shabby-chic vaudeville world, but his set also represents beautifully the Italian street scene the play’s setting demands. It draws audiences into the action.
Allyson Mojica’s costumes offer layers and textures, with pops of comedic color, circa 1915. Linda Carlisle Markas creates an aural world with ragtime piano, performed live.
e: What have been some challenges so far? How have you overcome them?
KM: There is never enough time and there is never enough money (no matter how much you have of either, and Dram Tree has certainly invested both in this venture). But that’s where creativity is born: of necessity, of limitation. If I had six months instead of six weeks to build this show, I’d most certainly mess it up.
Kat Rosner (KR): We have an amazing playing space to explore, with the audience on all sides, and tons of fun windows and doors to be utilized. That being said, it’s tough to make sure we are using the space in an optimal way, and being seen and heard properly. Luckily, we’ve got KC to guide us in navigating this space.
e: Describe one of your favorite scenes.
KR: The first time I come face to face with the wrong Antipholus. I’m a little tipsy, and completely confused. We don’t get much playing time together, but when we do it’s always a blast. I also love watching the dynamic between Dromio and Antipholus of Ephesus. Their fight scenes are delightful.
e: How do you personally relate to Dromio and where do you differ?
KR: While my clever jokes come much fewer and far between than Dromio’s, I, too, take pride in them. Like Dromio I’m just here to have a good time! Unlike Dromio I’m pretty reliable. My friends definitely don’t have to be in dire situations for me to start helping.
e: What attributes will audiences pick up on specific to your character?
KR: Hopefully the joy my Dromio has in playing with his Antipholus. There’s a showy, presentational quality to my witticisms that help relay the fun we’re having, and I hope audiences can share in that.