KPBS AIRDATE: July 30, 1997
“The Comedy of Errors” makes a pretty strong argument for not giving your identical twins identical names, not dressing them identically, and not hiring caretakers for them who are twins with the same name. The possibilities for confusion, needless to say, are endless. And, if all the twins were separated shortly after birth, and don’t even know about the continued existence of their other half, well, you can only imagine. Or, Shakespeare could only imagine. Or, more aptly, Plautus, the Roman comic playwright, could only imagine — in the 2nd century B.C.
Ever since then, both twinning and mistaken identity have never failed to amuse. There are countless examples, from “The Prince and the Pauper” to “Face/Off.” But that wasn’t enough for Old Globe guest director John Rando, who wanted to be sure his audience was entertained in a knee-slapping, rib-tickling, up-to-date way. So, although he set his “Comedy” five hundred years ago, at 10:17 a.m. on June 23, 1497, in the Port of Ephesus, Turkey, the town square looks very much like a narrow-streeted, Italian Renaissance village, but full of gypsies and Greeks, and towered over by a stripey, vivid edifice that bears a more than casual resemblance to Horton Plaza. Talk about your multi-century, multiculti mix!
The first character to appear onstage is a panda (one who later sports a slutty skirt, and then a nun’s habit — which creates quite a vision in black-and-white). Later, we meet Chewbacca, escapee from Star Wars, whose unintelligible whines and grunts must be interpreted by all manner of shenanigans. At the end, Ken Caminiti runs onstage to catch a fly ball, a fake plane soars by in the Lindbergh flight-path, Shamu breaks water, a Rasta, voodoo healer turns into Don King, an ear is bitten off, an entrance is made in a golf-cart, and a local park is called Tiger Woods.
If you ever thought you wouldn’t like or understand or laugh at a Shakespeare play, this is the production for you. Every shtick in the book. Equal parts farce, commedia dell’arte, burlesque and Borscht belt. In short, The Three Stooges meet the Two Sets of Twins.
It’s highly colorful, incredibly silly, vastly irreverent and totally irresistible. The jokes are heavily skewed toward the over-forty crowd. Lots of reference to old, classic Saturday Night Live skits, as well as “Car 54,” James Brown, Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe. The pace is appropriately frenetic, so if you missed one allusion, the next one will be by in a second, to hit you in the face like a pie (and don’t think that doesn’t show up here, too!)
The Boys from Syracuse carry the day. Bill Campbell as Antipholus of Syracuse, desperately searching for his long-lost brother, and Stephen DeRosa as his servant Dromio, are nothing short of hilarious. Their rat-a-tat timing and audience interaction are only surpassed by DeRosa’s hysterical impersonations and Campbell’s honest efforts (the only ones onstage), to create a credible, multi-dimensional character. Overall, the sum is greater than its parts, but the parts do add up to one hell-raising whole.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.