CA - The
Comedy of Errors was
Shakespeare's first comedy, written when the twenty-something bard was
excitedly riffing on one playwriting style after another.
With a four-part epic on the Wars of the Roses under his belt,
there could be no doubt whatever that Shakespeare did history plays.
In Titus Andronicus he trotted out tragedy a la
Seneca--all rhetoric and gore, with Thomas Kyd-style spectacle piled
on for good measure. In Love's
Labor's Lost we got the Shakespearean take on John Lily, so
confident and stylish it was as much parody as imitation.
Into this astonishing mix of early 1590s calling cards
Shakespeare dropped a tight little Italian farce, just because he
could. The Comedy of
Errors was modeled--and rather carefully, for Shakespeare--on
Roman comedies of Plautus, or rather on the way the Italians had been
Plautusing for fifty years or so.
Shakespeare's comedy correctly observes the unities of time and
place, unfolding in the same city square on the same day. He borrowed the Italians' favorite plot
device‑‑crossover confusion caused by separated twins--and
not only juggled his twins with aplomb, but doubled both confusion and
improbability by adding a second pair of them.
And if that wasn't flashy enough, Shakespeare absolutely
plastered his script with word-play, puns, malaprops, rhyme, and
metric patterns no one had used for decades.
Not just because he could, but because the Elizabethan audience
ate that stuff up like whipped cream.
Today's audience wants no part of it. The bard's punny
contrivances are largely unfathomable to the modern ear, and what
we can fathom is largely unfunny.
Unless it's being done for the classics faculty at Oxford,
a production of The Comedy of Errors now has to pretty much
get us past Shakespeare's verbal hotdogging.
If that can be managed, it's still a delightful and
workable piece of theatre.
Vox Humana's version at Hollywood Court Theatre does
delight and does work. I'm
not entirely sure why. The
physical production is a jumble, but in a fun sort of way--think
Hollywood's Mack Sennet doing commedia del'arte in Haiti.
If there is a theme behind the costuming, it's a loose one.
Period consistency, time-of-year consistency, whether or
not things are the right size--none of that seems to have mattered
much to the costumer. Maybe
the unifying principle is that everything came from the same
thrift shop. Yet I
found myself thinking only, Why doesn't this bother me?
Some of the Vox Humana publicity suggests that director
Edgar Landa had a concept in mind.
Well, I suppose you could call "everything but the
kitchen sink" a concept.
The costumes grudgingly suggest urban America in the
nineteen-twenties (by way of the seventies), but the set is more
of a Caribbean Catfish Row. The
background music is twenties and thirties, but the schtick is
equal parts Keystone Kops, Three Stooges, and 16th century Italy.
Landa's opening crowd scene is almost identical to the
first scene of Guys and Dolls, a Broadway musical of the
late forties. Sex-blind
casting puts spins on the plotline that could only be swallowed by
those of us who survived the late 20th century.
And then there's that pair of sliding doors at the back of
the set that magically open and close for people exactly like the
doors on the U.S.S. Enterprise. So that gets us into stardates.
This is a concept?
And yet, once again, I didn't really care.
There's something irresistible about the whole thing, a
kind of breezy, cheesy charm that just works.
Maybe the secret lies in not trying too hard.
Not caring too awfully much about breaking new ground or
putting a personal stamp on everything or tying it all together
with a fully conceived thematic bow.
We've all sat through concept Shakespeare that sucked. Landa's semi-concept concept doesn't suck very much at all.
The actors--skillful and attractive--are having a blast,
and so is most of the audience. You definitely get the feeling Shakespeare would approve.
The "kitchen sink" school of theatre, after
all, can claim him as an honored alumnus.
G.R. White. Printable View
Comedy of Errors now playing at:
April 25, 2004