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.
A kingly history, mistaken identity and a ‘problem play’
P The Utah Shakespeare Festival’s summer season includes three strong productions of plays by the bard.
“The Comedy of Errors” is frantic fun and a great way to introduce younger family members to Shakespeare.
A remarkable production of “Henry IV, Part One” is intelligent, heartfelt and funny.
A clear, intelligent production of “Measure for Measure” minimizes the inherent problems in the play and makes it more accessible.
When • “The Comedy of Errors” reviewed June 30, “Henry IV, Part One” reviewed July 1, “Measure for Measure” reviewed July 2; all three continue in rotating repertory with three other productions Mondays through Saturdays through Aug. 30; see www.bard.org for schedule
Where • Evening performances in the Adams Shakespearean Theatre and matinees in the Auditorium Theatre at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Southern Utah University campus, 300 West and Center Street, Cedar City
Tickets • $32 to $73, with discounts for groups, students and seniors; 800-PLAYTIX (752-9849) or www.bard.org
Running times • “The Comedy of Errors,” 2 hours; “Henry IV, Part One,” 2 hours and 45 minutes; “Measure for Measure,” 2 hours and 15 minutes; all include an intermission