Staunton News Leader
January 13, 2011
The time of year has arrived when the American Shakespeare Center's directors are manacled to rusting water pipes in the basement of the old Masonic Temple and the company's actors are allowed to run riot over the Blackfriars Playhouse stage.
It's the 2011 Actors' Renaissance Season, in which the players assume all blocking, designing and directing duties, and produce — often in just a matter of days — a fully rehearsed and developed play.
Such is the case in the first of this season's five actor-produced offerings. With only three days' rehearsal (and one prompter) as a safety net, the 12-member ASC troupe launched "The Comedy of Errors" to an audience that fully appreciated the play's verve and idiocy while overlooking whatever opening-night errors may have occurred.
While this production of Shakespeare's first comedy lacks some of the flourishes that earlier ASC versions have boasted, it is nevertheless a crowd-pleaser that shouldn't be missed. It is fast-paced, well-staged and consummately acted. All that's required of audiences is that they check their disbelief at the door, for this early Shakespeare work is truly an exercise in farce and improbability.
Get a load of this for a plot:
Identical twins, both of whom are named Antipholus, are separated as children in a shipwreck. Their personal servants are also identical twins, and both are named Dromio. One Antipholus and Dromio live in Ephesus, and the other Antipholus and Dromio live in Syracuse.
Years later they are all reunited in a dizzying potpourri of preposterous situations that include the two sets of masters and servants, the boys' long-lost father and mother, confused wives, friends and business partners — even a very fat, very randy kitchen maid.
It's a play of broad strokes and telegraphed set-ups, and while it doesn't treat us to the writing of a dramatically mature Shakespeare, "The Comedy of Errors" does provide a grand vehicle for the ASC's comedically savvy actors to wax humorous. Gregory Jon Phelps and Tyler Moss are insanely hilarious as the two Dromios, while Patrick Midgley and John Harrell as the two Antipholuses redefine the roles of straight men.
My favorite scenes: Phelps, as Dromio of Syracuse, describing the incredible, oily fatness of frisky kitchen maid Nell, and Harrell, as Antipholus of Ephesus, trying to gain entrance to his own house after he has been locked out.
The cast also features Jeremy West, Jeremiah Davis, Benjamin Curns, Sarah Fallon, Miriam Donald, Allison Glenzer, Paul Jannise and Chris Johnston.
Through April, the Actors' Renaissance Season also will present "The Malcontent," "Look About You," "Henry VI Part 3" and "A Trick to Catch the Old One."
For best seats order The Comedy of Errors tickets now.
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