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April 9, 2004



Theater Reviews

         

Vox Humana

presents

           

HOLLYWOOD, 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

Vox Humana's The Comedy of Errors now playing at:

Hollywood Court Theater 

6817 Franklin Avenue

Hollywood, California

(323) 769-5714

Thru April 25, 2004

                  

 

 

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