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Shakespeare in the Park's 'Comedy of Errors' is thick with fine acting and funny ideas, but the humor is slightly off


None July 22nd, 2010

Comedy1_7-06x10-65cm
The Comedy of Errors
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, through Aug. 7
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park
Bicentennial Park
500 Couch
www.oklahomashakespeare.com
235-3700
$10, $8 students/seniors

Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park opened its season with "The Taming of the Shrew," Shakespeare's second comedy, and now presents the Bard's first, "The Comedy of Errors," at its temporary quarters in Bicentennial Park. Although OSP hasn't advertised this season as a seminar in early Shakespearean humor, these productions illustrate the issues directors face in staging his comedies for modern audiences.

"Errors" involves mistaken identity, a favorite Shakespearean device, when two sets of identical twins "” Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus, and Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus, who were separated shortly after birth "” encounter each other by a convenient coincidence.

The challenge for directors of Shakespeare's comedies today is that they must find a hook or add something for the plays to be funny. Much of the humor embedded in the archaic language of Shakespeare's plays is likely to be missed by anyone without a doctorate in Elizabethan literature.

So director D. Lance Marsh stages the play as if it were being presented by a commedia dell'arte troupe with the stock characters such as Pantalone and Dottore playing roles. Robert A. Pittenridge's costumes are commedia-like, and the acting is as broad as the facade of Civic Center Music Hall, which looms behind the stage. Does this approach provide humor accessible to modern audiences? Not really, with two notable exceptions.

The fine comic actors Jon Haque and Christopher Curtis play identical twins and bedeviled, yet faithful servants of the other set of identical twins (Aaron Wertheim and Justin McInnis). Haque and Curtis, both bald and bearded, bear enough physical resemblance to play twins credibly, something Marsh exploits in a scene he added to the beginning of Act 2, which must have been inspired by the mirror scene in the Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup." Shakespeare himself may have inserted such a scene if he had 16th-century counterparts to Haque and Curtis.

The funniest scene doesn't even take place onstage. It's when Haque dupes an audience member into slapping his face. Haque reacts with a lingering look of pained indignation.

Other than that, the production just gives it the old college try, literally; most cast members are Marsh's students at Oklahoma City University. Occasionally, Marsh has them break character, as when S. Antipholus asks Adriana, "Plead you to me, fair dame?" as if he's Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver" ("You talkin' to me?").

This is a boisterous production. Marsh has several commedia characters remain onstage for much of the play, some of them accompanying the show on kazoos. What an annoying sound that becomes. Shae Orrick plays Adriana as a shrill shrew with a bullwhip. She thinks her husband is having an affair, and who could blame him? "”Larry Laneer
 
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