A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY
Productions of William Shakespeare’s plays grace the Los Angeles stage year round, but in the summer they multiply prolifically and fill public spaces. Among these, the productions of the Independent Shakespeare Co. (ISC) at Griffith Park are perhaps the most accessible due to the park’s central location, easy freeway access and abundant free parking. Their 2012 summer season includes The Winter’s Tale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Comedy of Errors. The latter play was made especially accessible by the addition of a small band playing music from the post-war era, which mixed up the program a bit. Yet, the ISC is to be congratulated for not watering down Shakespeare’s rather archaic English in the name of easier listening comprehension.
The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays. It is a comedy both in the sense of being funny and in the sense of resolution that its tidy ending provides. As with many of Shakespeare’s comedies, the principal motif is mistaken identity, provided by the presence of two sets of twins among the cast of characters. Each pair of twins, moreover, carry identical names. As Aegon (Joseph Culliton) relates in his opening speech, he and his wife Aemilia (Bernadette Sullivan), their twin sons and twin slaves were separated by shipwreck. Thus, Aegon ended up in Syracuse with one Antipholus (Sean Pritchett) and Dromio (Richard Azurdia), while Aemilia ended up in Ephesus along with the other Antipholus (Andre Martin) and the other Dromio (Bobby Plasencia). While in Ephesus on business, the Syracusan twins are constantly mistaken for the Ephesian twins and vice versa until both parties are united at last in a serendipitous and happy reunion.
Because of the constant identity shifts, The Comedy of Errors can be quite confusing for those unfamiliar with the play. Reading it beforehand – always good advice when it comes to Shakespeare – can dramatically improve one’s understanding and enjoyment. The audience is at somewhat of an advantage, however, in that the play’s cast does not include actual twins, so it is always possible to tell them apart even if they are dressed identically. The ISC has introduced a further identity shift in transposing the play to the post-war era, though its geographical setting remains the same. It is a minor shift that happily does not alter the meaning.
Both Sean Pritchett and Andre Martin give fine performances as Antipholus, though the former is somewhat funnier. Perhaps the added laughs are derived from the harsh remedies provided by Dr. Pinch (David Melville), who nearly tortures Antipholus of Ephesus to death. It is the most significant of ISC’s few alterations to Shakespeare’s text. Richard Azurdia and Bobby Plasencia each wring maximum laughs from their roles. One of the funniest scenes was Azurdia’s colorful description of Adriana’s serving wench as “spherical.” As Adriana, wife to Antipholus of Antioch, Aisha Kabia gives a rather exaggerated interpretation of her role, but her talent for projecting her voice certainly aided in following her speeches
ISC’s temporary stage set in Griffith Park provided a rather odd-looking backdrop. It may have served previous performances better, but there was something not quite right (or safe) about the actors climbing up a stool on to a desk and then on to another chair just to reach an upper doorway. Another doorway at ground level, by contrast, was rarely used. The band’s small curtained space on the far left of the main stage appeared cramped and not at all adequate to their needs. Director Melissa Chalsma made great use of the park’s amphitheatre-like space by having cast members walk through the crowd for some of their stage entrances rather than always coming from the wings.
The Independent Shakespeare Company’s production of The Comedy of Errors is fun and varied. With so many outdoor distractions, from young children to late-arriving audience members, it’s a difficult show to stay focused on. Fortunately, the company mixes it up with lively music and complementary period dancing. The crowd didn’t always catch Shakespeare’s jokes, but they always clapped for the music. Seeing theatre in the park isn’t always as enjoyable as in a purpose-built theatre, but when it’s free, who’s complaining?
photos by Grettel Cortes
The Comedy of Errors
Independent Shakespeare Company in Griffith Park in Los Angeles
scheduled to end on September 1, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.iscla.org