The Comedy of Errors is often skipped over in the lists of Shakespeare’s greatest works, with its focus on farce and short (for Shakespeare) length. Shakespeare himself, however, does not seem to have taken it any less seriously, adapting Plautus’ play The Menaechmi and adhering to the classical Unity of Time while happily slotting in current geopolitical references and heavier subjects like fraud and infidelity in between the wordplay and slapstick. The Delaware Shakespeare Festival offers a similarly eclectic collection of influences — from their work with Wilmington’s Latin American Community Center in their “Our Shakespeare, Our America/Nuestra América, Nuestro Shakespeare” program, to their jazzy three-piece band, to globe- and time-spanning costume design — for a light-hearted, but never lightweight production.
The production balances the conceit of the revolving pairs of identical twins with equally entertaining performances from the supporting characters. Twoey Truong’s stern but sympathetic Duke plays the straight man to the play’s hijinx, while her performance as Angelo underscores the confusion as a good-natured goldsmith mugging for an in-joke he may not understand at all, but trusts is there as the ultimate explanation for Antipholus’ confusing behavior. Danielle Leneé and Savannah Jackson as Adriana and Luciana contrast the portrayal of the play’s long-lost twins, whose personalities have formed with no input from one another, with another type of familial bond: they portray the sisters as individuals who nevertheless define themselves somewhat in opposition to their sibling. Yet though they criticize each other, when outside sources threaten Adriana’s happiness Leneé and Jackson show the two closing ranks, presenting a united front despite their differences and disagreements.
The production has managed to pull off something of a casting coup, as the actors playing the numerous sets of siblings actually do look similar. Brendan Moser gives Antipholus of Syracuse a happy-go-lucky touch to his confusion, while Luke Brahdt plays Antipholus of Ephesus as increasingly enraged by the repeated cases of mistaken identity. The Dromio twins continue a proud tradition of stealing the show, with both Brian Reisman (Dromio of Ephesus) and Sean Close (Dromio of Syracuse) taking good advantage of the wordplay, fart jokes, and slapstick opportunities — though Close may have the edge on hilarity, thanks to some fourth wall-bending gags that deny him the opportunity to summon theme music or have privacy for his asides to the audience.
Scenic designer Rajiv Shah’s set offers a creative take on the DSF’s theatre in the round aesthetic, with a long rectangular ramp and two rolling, rotatable doors as the only dressing. A rainbow of bright colors complement the minimalist construction through the painted rectangular patterns and the strings of glass lantern lights hanging over the length of the stage.
Sarah Mitchell’s costume design is similarly colorful. The brothers continue their similarities with identical styles and inverted color schemes: the Antipholi wear button-downs and culottes (navy and maroon for Syracuse, maroon and navy for Ephesus), while the Dromios pair striped shirts (pink for Syracuse, blue for Ephesus) with yellow vests, matching snapbacks, and teal harem shorts for that early ’90s Adventures in Wonderland Tweedledum and Tweedledee flavor. Like the production, the costumes draw on a variety of influences — though perhaps too many, as there appears to be no unifying theme among colors and styles designed to draw attention. Luciana wears a lovely Grecian-inspired pale blue pleated dress and lace-up sandals; Dr. Pinch has a (somewhat dubious) Mongolian-esque cap, coat slashed with bright silk colors, and facial hair display; Egeon has the battered hat, poncho, and sandals of an itinerant herder of sheep; Balthasar sports purple pirate boots; the Duke and their officers wear futuristic black, grey and white tunics with one-shouldered capes paired with combat boots. However, there is no denying that the costumes’ lively designs and bright colors follow the production’s aesthetic.
The production starts off a little slowly, but finds its footing just as the identical protagonists begin to lose theirs. Director David Stradley and the cast expertly rotate the blocking to take advantage of the set’s shape without excluding any one side of the audience. Given the set’s design, it is unsurprising that without the first three walls there is not much of a fourth wall, either. Stradley adopts a stylized approach to the slapstick that has all slaps, kicks, and punches originating from several feet away from the intended target (typically a Dromio, of course) and landing with musical sound effects. Similarly, other characters indulge in self-generated slow motion and cue their own theme music (provided by Kanako Omae Neale on percussion, James Reilly on bass, and musical supervisor Zachary Davis on saxophone). If the production has any particular fault, it is that it could use more of these entertaining and well-executed elements to match the play’s over-the-top approach.
Regardless, the Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s Comedy of Errors is still plenty of fun. Thanks to the production’s eclectic influences, it doesn’t matter that the audience contains students who read Plautus in the original Latin alongside children who love physical comedy and Game of Thrones fans who mistook “drinking from Circe’s cup” for “drinking from Cersei’s cup” (and thus still got the joke) — there are more than enough laughs for everyone.
Correction: Brian Reisman played the role of Dromio of Ephesus in the performance reviewed, not Chase Byrd.