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Utah Shakespeare Festival review: 'The Comedy of Errors' is frenetic and funny

Published July 8, 2014 9:27 am

'The Comedy of Errors' • Translating Shakespeare to the Wild West adds to madcap flavor.
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Cedar City • Midway through Utah Shakespeare Festival's madcap production of "The Comedy of Errors," Antipholus of Syracuse asks, "Am I in Earth, in Heaven or in Hell? Sleeping or waking? Mad or well advised? Known unto these, and to myself disguised!" It's a logical question in this most illogical universe, where appearances are deceiving and no one seems to know even who anyone else is.

"The Comedy of Errors" is Shakespeare's most frantic farce. He lifted the plot from Plautus' Roman comedy "Menechmi," where a set of twins — named Antipholus here — get into trouble by being endlessly mistaken for each other. To double the fun, he added another set of twins, the Dromios, who are their servants, so that not only the townspeople but even the masters and servants get confused.

The play's hodgepodge construction offers endless comic possibilities and opens the door to improvisation and reinvention, and director Brad Carroll has chosen to Americanize this production by setting it in San Francisco during the Gold Rush.

Apart from an overdone prologue and some extraneous gags in the first act, this reimagining works remarkably well. The characters' Western drawl actually reinforces the cadences in Shakespeare's dialogue and helps you distinguish between the sets of twins — as strangers to Ephesus, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse don't have accents. This production has the fresh, spontaneous feel of something being invented as you watch. The errant tumbleweed that refuses to tumble just adds to the fun.

This production delivers pairs of Antipholi and Dromios that are so well matched physically and comically that it's hard to tell them apart. Drew Shirley's Antipholus of Ephesus is savvier and more manipulative than Chris Amos' Antipholus of Syracuse, but both are equally inventive.

Misha Fristensky and Aaron Galligan-Stierle are hilarious as the Dromios. Galligan-Stierle's greater stage experience gives him the edge in milking comic bits for laughs, and his description of the overly amorous Nell is especially funny. Adriana, Antipholus of Ephesus' long-suffering wife, is often portrayed as a whining wimp, but Cassandra Bissell brilliantly fleshes her out, adding not only fire but heart. As her sister, Eva Balistrieri is the quintessential Southern lady.

Roderick Peeples concocts an ingenious way of making Egeon's long opening speech entertaining and his later lament, "not know my voice!" more meaningful and poignant. John G. Preston's Pinch is a shameless charlatan, and Jonathan Smoots creates a laconic, but authoritative, sheriff, while Kathleen Brady steals the show as a shotgun-wielding abbess.

Carroll directs the mayhem with comic, but controlled, abandon, even devising a way to keep some long speeches from slowing down the momentum. Vicki M. Smith's wooden storefront set looks as if it were lifted from a 1950s TV Western. David Kay Mickelsen's period costumes add style and color, and Paul James Prendergast's honkytonk piano music bridges scenes and adds funky flavor.

This production of "The Comedy of Errors" is a rollicking romp from start to finish. —

Dromio, Dromio

Utah Shakespeare Festival's "The Comedy of Errors" is frantic fun and a great way to introduce younger family members to Shakespeare.

When • Reviewed June 30; continues in rotating repertory with two other productions Mondays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees, through Aug. 30

Where • Adams Shakespearean Theatre at the Utah Shakespeare Festival on the campus of Southern Utah University, 300 West and Center Street, Cedar City. Matinees are in the Auditorium Theatre.

Tickets • $32 to $73, with discounts for groups, students and seniors. Tickets and information available at 800-PLAYTIX (752-9849) or http://www.bard.org

Running time • Two hours (including an intermission)