Granted Balthazar is a minor character in The Comedy of Errors, but he’s the only dramatis persona whose name works for the alliteration in my title, and since a willful suspension of credulity is required for Shakespeare’s play to work, give me break.
I also wanted to give co-directors Kimberly Davis Basso and Sujoy De a break as I watched the final dress of the Atlantis Playmakers’ production of The Comedy of Errors. Basso and De set their very young cast in a circa 1950s Florida beach resort, but time and place are confusing in this production, as the costumes say 50s while the set suggests the 20s. It seems that suspension of credulity also extends to the production at hand.
For the Playmakers’ production, Egeon, played by Caitlin Stuart-Swift, is now a woman in search of her sons, and she is the most woebegone sailor to ever hit the high seas. Not only does she suffer the family-splitting wreck that sets the play in motion, but Stuart-Swift makes her entrance over the shoulder of Pinch (Chris Wiley), who is now a preening lifeguard rather than an amateur exorcist. Egeon has just been plucked—gasping for air—from the surf and turned over to the Duke (who is now a Duchess), played by Erika Gellar, who seems like she just came from a three martini lunch with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda.
And what about Egeon’s wife, the Abbess Emilia? She is now a he, Aemelio, played by Patrick Hughes, and he runs a hot dog stand on the beach. Gone are the abbey and, oddly, all other references to Christianity from the text. This would be fine if the production were focused on the physical comedy of the piece and not the pathos of a Christian Antipholus of Syracuse who is more afraid of limbo than hell, but for physical comedy and farce to work, it must build itself up to breakneck speed. The Playmakers’ production doesn’t sustain that pace.
There are some very funny moments of inspired comedy. Most notable are John Oxemford and Jordan Greeley as the Dromio twins and Sunil Gandhewar’s very subtle Gaoler. But the cast is overall too sincere in their line readings—in particular Elizabeth Hartford as Adriana and Emma Goodman as Luciana, who hit a sing-song rhythm that reduces the text to something akin to Dr. Seuss.
“A wretched soul, bruised with adversity. / Green eggs and ham are not for me.”
Sprinkled between the scenes is a sort of dumb show featuring Tracy O’Donnell, Adria Orenstein, Ben Hull and Kerry Lynch, young student actors from The Atlantis Playmakers’ in-house theatre school. This is a great way to get children involved with the play and the directors cleverly use these young actors to justify Antipholus of Syracuse’s monologue, which Michael Duncan Smith delivers with aplomb.
Unfortunately his counterpart, Tim Hoover as Antipholus of Ephesus, is exactly up to the task and his brief time on stage is reduced to a lot of shouting and waving and he at no time gives the impression that he is deeply in love with his wife, or even remotely attracted to his Courtesan, played by Victoria Townsend.
Traci Leopore as Angelo serves the play well, a few apparent line drops aside, as do Carrie Little and Kathy Lynch in ensemble, but I suspect they are more than likely child-actor wranglers.
Bernie Hutches’ lighting design is simple but effective. The script doesn’t call for anything fancy, as this is one of the two Shakespeare plays that takes place over the course of one single day, and the directors set this Comedy on a sunny beach, so toss up some yellow and you‘re fine. Michael Molineaux is credited with sound design, but none is evident. No sound of lapping waves or gulls in the distance. No traveling music or curtain warming. Nothing. Perhaps this is by design (and a horrible mistake), or maybe he just failed to show up (another horrible mistake).
While it wouldn’t necessarily be a horrible mistake to miss the Atlantis Playmakers’ production of The Comedy of Errors, it is a valiant effort from some young actors and it clocks in at just under 90-minutes. The most promising sign of the evening occurred when a seven year-old girl sitting in the front row stayed engaged with the play the entire evening. This is no small task for a children’s show, but even more commendable for a production of Shakespeare.