The Comedy of Errors
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jessica De La Rosa
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Shakespeare’s greatest plays are often characterized by the depth of context and meaning, which means The Comedy of Errors is often counted among the slightest of his works. Although some scholars have claimed the writing contains commentary on Elizabethan business and political realities, this early play from The Bard is first and foremost a well-structured, if highly improbable, farce.
Set in the city of Ephesus, the story is of two sets of identical twins accidentally separated at birth. Antipholus of Syracuse (Jack Scott) and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse (Hermoine Bean-Mills), arrive in Ephesus, which just so happens to be the home of their twin brothers, Antipholus of Ephesus (Henry Stern), and his servant, Dromio of Ephesus (Bailey Whelan). Mistaken identity leads to all manner of confusion, harassment, and abuse until all is set right in the end.
Identity confusion is a dominant theme in Shakespeare, and most of it collapses easily under the weight of scrutiny, so suspension of disbelief is crucial. The structure of the scenes and the delight of the dialogue are masterful and go far in achieving that goal, but director Jessica De La Rosa places the action in a music festival in an effort to help the audience fully engage with the silliness. The young cast clearly enjoys the casual and colorful costumes (by Lindsay Chamberlin and Hannah Greene) and as a whole plays it in a very relaxed way.
Except for the principals. The travails of mistaken identity confuse and stress them out.
In addition to the twins, Antipholus of Ephesus is married to Adriana (Sydney Snyder) and they live with her sister, Luciana (Bella Detwiler). These six execute their characters with authority and lucid command of the dialogue. Jack Scott was especially strong in discovering nuance and insight in the slightly better drawn of the Antipholus’, and Bella Detwiler nicely underplayed Luciana, confident about finding her highlights.
Most of the ensemble found small moments to connect, and I also took notice of Chloe Fitch as Balthazar, and Zack Faulkner had some nice moments as Angelo, merchant of chains and ropes.
As for De La Rosa’s trio of Courtesans who are a band, Kayla Kean, Evie Hill, and Audrey Niehaus were lovely of presence and voice, but the musical numbers were curiously lackluster, in part because their singing voices never seemed to be picked up as well as their spoken dialogue by the microphones, and the performance of the songs never managed the same commitment of focused energy that made the dialogue exchanges crackle.
It does match a certain fey charm that was a feature of the ensemble, and I also could not help but wish that quality had been more fully exploited. It might have elevated a good production to a great one and would seem to be one of the unique aspects of De La Rosa’s concept.
I have always found that The Comedy of Errors runs out of gas before the end. This may be the greatest push of the identity trope that Shakespeare ever attempted, and it stretches to the point of breaking a few scenes before the climactic reveal. The Duke (a solid Alex Miguel) delivers a nearly interminable expository summary that needlessly postpones the predictable resolution, and it may be because Shakespeare needed to update his unruly audience in order to pull off the overly tidy happy ending, but it feels like a needed edit in modern-day productions.
Still and all, by the time the cast dances into the curtain call, the charm and fine work from the principals win the day. De La Rosa keeps things dynamic with blocking that often places the characters in circles, warily sizing up one another through the chaotic action, and has her characters entering and exiting from every available point of egress afforded by the custom-built outdoor stage. It is textbook farce overlaid with a chill counter-culture vibe.
Featuring Hermoine Bean-Mills, Jessie Burke, Bella Detwiler, Zack Faulkner, Chloe Fitch, Bea Friesen, Evie Hill, Kayla Kean, Alex Miguel, Jordan Moore, Audrey Niehaus, Jack Scott, Henry Stern, Sydney Snyder, & Bailey Whelan
The Comedy of Errors
May 6, 8, 10, & 13 @ 7:00 pm
May 15 @ 2:00 pm
Tickets: $15 – Click Here
Commonwealth Theatre Center
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.