(Garden Grove, CA) August, 2011 – The comedies by William Shakespeare are not just laugh-out-loud, slapstick tales; each one differs in terms of themes and especially their theatrical styles. THE TAMING OF THE SHREW focuses on marriage and the attraction of opposites. The MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR gives the audience a glimpse into cuckoldry and seduction. TWELFTH NIGHT explores gender roles, a pair of twins, and how mistaken identities lead to chaotic, hilarious results.
As far as THE COMEDY OF ERRORS is concerned, this crazy comedy concentrates on…well…two pairs of twins separated at birth and how their appearances at the affluent city of Ephesus create…well…chaotic, hilarious results. It doesn’t have any thought-provoking themes or three-dimensional symbolism; it’s just a silly sit-com of a play whose soul mission is to generate laughter and to have the audience leave the theatre with smiles on their faces. And Shakespeare Orange County accomplishes this mission wonderfully. SOC regulars Shaun Anthony and Jeremy Schaeg, as well as Alyssa Bradac’s expert direction, help provide a slide-splitting finale to the Orange County theatre’s 20th season.
Traders from Syracuse are forbidden to enter the city of Ephesus, which is bad news for the aged Syracusian trader Egeon (an eloquent and sympathetic Gil Gonzalez), who has to pay a penalty of one thousand marks or face execution. Egeon shares a sad tale about how he was married and had twin sons. He also describes how he once knew a poor woman who also gave birth to twins, twins that Egeon had purchased as slaves. When the entire family embarked on a sea voyage and a tempest struck their ship, Egeon lost his wife, one of his sons and his accompanying slave. As the years went by, a grown Antipholus of Syracuse (Shaun Anthony) and his slave Dromio (Anika Habermas-Scher) embark to Ephesus to find their lost twins, who--- unbeknownst to them---are also named Antipholus and Dromio (Jeremy Shaeg and Joshua Snyder). When the pair from Syracuse disappeared, the elder Egeon sought them out in the city, resulting in his capture. Touched by this story, the Duke of Ephesus (an entertainingly effete Brian Clark) decides to give the prisoner one day to pay the penalty. And during this one day period, both sets of twins experience misunderstandings, mistaken identities, faux witchcraft, a jealous wife, a catty courtesan, a greedy goldsmith, an irate abbess, and Dr. Pinch, a conjurer whose brief presence always steals the show from the lead actors, regardless of the production.
Errors may be the shortest of The Bard’s plays, but it’s not exactly the easiest to produce. Flawless comedic timing is essential from the acting and directing standpoint, or else it becomes amateurish. Although she has directed the S.O.C’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), The Comedy of Errors is Alyssa Bradac’s first Shakespearean production on this stage. However, her acting repertoire is extremely impressive, especially playing The Fool in last year’s SOC production of King Lear, as well as her directing endeavors at other renowned venues. And her experiences and training have come together beautifully for Errors. The fast pacing fits the tone of the overall play, as well as the slightly updated setting of period costuming mixed with modern day Mardi Gras. Bradac deftly guides her players in terms of the nuanced blocking (especially during some of the physically-demanding comedic scenes) and the timing of the audio and special lighting cues and asides. This Shakespearean directorial debut at SOC will provide a solid creative foundation for her as she begins her training at the University of Calgary’s MFA Directing Program this fall.
Of course, it helps to have a talented cast to conjure the comedic magic of The Bard’s text. For the two sets of twins, you need four talented actors who posses the charisma to win the audience’s hearts and the chemistry to bring believability to their familial bonds. What is brilliant is the casting of Anthony and Schaeg as twins, whose physical differences add to the absurdity even more. Shaun Anthony’s lean, leading man and boyish good looks are enhanced by his romantic charm and his sophisticated comedic timing. And then you have Jeremy Schaeg as Anthony’s “twin”, whose bald pate and stocky form match his roguish, libidinous portrayal as a naughty playboy. Both actors---who have mainly been cast in supporting roles at SOC, have the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities as leading players, and they succeed beautifully. But their respective Dromios are just as talented with their craft, if not more so. Snyder’s Dromio of Ephesus is a black-haired version of Paulie Shore, but the actor’s delivery of the poetics is subtle and nuanced. And Habermas-Scher’s Syracuse Dromio is a frenetic, wiry and limber imp who runs circles around those she fools and confounds. All four of them compliment each other’s comedic styles, which serves as the driving force behind the play.
But their phenomenal presence doesn’t take away from their supporting co-stars. Amber Starr Friendly is elegant as Antipholus’s (Schaeg’s) suffering wife, Adriana. Stephanie Robinson---the queen of Shakespearian best friend roles at SOC---is heartbreaking and adorable as the romantic interest of Antipholus (Anthony’s…I think. Between the two of them, this is getting confusing.). But as it was mentioned before, the scene stealing role of Dr. Pinch was devoured with joy and passion by Michael Drace Fountain, who was also the scenic designer of this production. Dressed in dreadlocks and wearing voodoo skull make-up, Fountain brought the audience to tears as a zoned-out charlatan who energetically tries, in vain of course, to exorcise the imaginary demons from Schaeg’s Antipholus, transforming the entire scene into a farcical revival ceremony. Indeed, through all the hilarity, confusion, and chaos, The Comedy of Errors is a true example of flawlessness.
The Comedy of Errors opened August 5 and runs to July 20.
Shakespeare Orange County
The Festival Amphitheatre, 12740 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA
Photos by: Johnny Le