This review, much like the play up for critique, A Noise Within’s production of The Comedy of Errors, finds itself torn in two. News and updates of the playhouse’s epic relocation to East Pasadena in the fall is kept fresh in mind – everyone’s abuzz about it. Posters, email blasts, Twitter updates, open to the public Hard Hat Sunday tours of the new, multi-use facility… It’s a beautiful storm of change ready to grab hold.
More on that later.
Anyone who’s broken a page with the Bard knows the opening to The Comedy of Errors is a doozy. It wears you down, and it’s supposed to be Shakespeare’s shortest play.All that is forgotten the moment you get a load of scenic designer Kurt Boetcher’s illuminated Roarin’ 20s set. David Bickford tickles the ivories as guests take their seats. It’s like we’re in the French Quarter – where the air is suddenly hot and sweet, and a honeydew hum of a familiar song syrups through the air. Something wonderful is about to happen.
The show begins with a slapstick kick-start of spotlight introductions from a cast that’s…not from the here and now. These are vaudevillians, see? Hailing from the melting pots across the U.S. of A, see? There’s probably a cousin of a cousin in the troupe who’s always had it in him to be in the pictures. Immediately, you get a sense that you’ve met this cast before. Because the feel-good, positive emotion planted by the comedy icons who came before them, like Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers, is rooted deep and strong within our cultural makeup. Nothing’s changed between then and now. An audience has, and will always be a lovefool for fools.
All the world’s a stooge…err, stage. Okay, wrong play, but I couldn’t help myself and neither could A Noise Within.
In this play within a play landscape, you get an amuse-bouche of archetypical characters that stem from the humble and obscure beginnings of the show biz era, from “The Strong Man” as The Officer (Andrew Ditz) and the “Ethnic Comic” as Angelo and Pinch (P.J. Ochlan) to “The Ingénue” in the role of Luciana (Annie Abrams), who shares a scene with a faux sparrow perched atop her finger. If the time warp here is accurate, Adriana Caselotti’s Snow White would be inspired by this performance.
Oh yes, this is still a Shakespearean effort. The over the top theatrics make you forget long enough in order to transport you to a place where everything you see on stage can be possible. And the play is yet to start and the dreaded “doozy” of the first act must still be swallowed.
Director Michael Michetti is one step ahead of you here. Cleverly done, and so amusing, is a silent film reel that acts as the visual supplement to Egeon’s (Michael Stone Forrest) retelling of the hapless fate that’s befallen his progeny to the Duke Solinus (William Dennis Hunt). A+ for delivery.
Now enter the men of the hour, or better yet…the double act. The Dromios are played by the fantastic Jerry Kernion, whose beautiful buffoonery carries notes of Curly Howard, but with the sweet heart of a not-so-little buddy, Boo-Boo Bear. Bruce Turk is the Antipholii of Ephesus and Syracuse, respectively. What’s fascinating about Turk’s performance is that he’s the high-strung spring chicken whose feathers haven’t the time to settle yet before the next surprise turns the corner, and when it finally does -- the audience turns to look with him. He’s half Zeppo, half Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow.
As the doppelgangers navigate through the muddy pool of mistaken identities and missing (gold) links, colorful characters like a man in drag (Gibby Brand), a ventriloquist merchant (Rene Ruiz) and one hot-blooded wife, Adriana (Abby Craden), stir the time-worn plot with a secret ingredient only A Noise Within bottles and brews. Case in point: the curious matter of staging the splendiferous reunion scene when you know and I know that the odds of two sets of twin actors is highly unlikely. Michetti, again, is one step ahead of us with the oldest trick in the book. Dummies in duplicate costumes. The ultimate anti-climactic climax that you can’t seem to resist. This moment is why the term “classic” is such a famous bookmark in discourse. What a couple of wiseguys, eh?
If this is what ANW calls a final curtain for Shakespeare on Brand Blvd., then I’m in full agreement there’s no better way to bow out and ship out to the rosier pastures of Pasadena. Tell you what though, a parting is still sweet sorrow. My first play under their roof dates back to 1999. Almost twelve years. Nothing’s changed between then and now.