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article imageReview: 'Comedy of Errors' takes simple approach in Toronto's High Park Special

By Jeff Cottrill     Jul 18, 2015 in Entertainment
Toronto - With an implausible plot about mistaken identity and bawdy puns, “The Comedy of Errors” may be the Shakespeare play that's closest to being a “Three's Company” episode. Thankfully, Canadian Stage's new production doesn't pretend it's much more.
Errors, which opened on Friday night, alternates with Julius Caesar this year at CanStage's annual Shakespeare in High Park, and aside from the playwright and the outdoor park setting, the two productions couldn't be more different. While the company's new Caesar risks overkill by cranking the visual and aural spectacle up to eleven, Errors director Matjash Mrozewski takes the opposite approach — limiting all the action to the stage area and following the text closely, with virtually no changes. If Caesar spends 90 minutes demanding your attention with much ado, Errors relaxes and trusts its audience to enjoy a silly, traditional farce for what it is.
The main liberty Mrozewski takes is to set the play in 19th-Century Venice, even though the text calls it Ephesus. (I suppose you have to shrug and accept that in the way you accept that New York is called Metropolis in Superman.) The story involves two sets of identical twins, both of which were separated in infancy. Antipholus (Kyle Golemba) lives in Ephesus with his wife Adriana (Allegra Fulton), her sister Luciana (Dalal Badr) and servant Dromio (Jessica Greenberg). Meanwhile, his twin, also named Antipholus (Dylan Trowbridge), has arrived in town from Syracuse with his own servant, the other Dromio (Naomi Wright), to seek their brothers. This sets in motion a series of wacky misunderstandings when the visiting Antipholuses and Dromios are mistaken for their counterparts and vice-versa — confusion that leads to the local Antipholus getting locked out of his own house and even jailed for debt, while the visiting one falls in love with Luciana.
One of Shakespeare's earliest (and shortest) comedies, typically dated around 1594, Errors is a contrived Plautine farce that lacks the depth of the Bard's A-material, so a straightforward approach is wisest. Mrozewski puts most of the focus on character interaction and broad physical humour; his only attempt to widen the play's thematic scope is with an opening dumb show in which players in black robes and identical Venetian masks “mirror” each other's movements, apparently suggesting the twins as mirrors or something. He also uses a simple set by Teresa Przybylski, consisting mostly of four large backdrops (with doors) featuring photos of Venetian buildings on canal shores. Props and furniture are plentiful, however — including a neat little gondola on wheels that gets pulled along downstage. It's a credit to stage manager Laura Baxter that the play moves so quickly, with smooth scene transitions, despite all the rapid switching of props and other business.
Every actor contributes high energy to this production, especially Greenberg and Wright, whose much-abused Dromios are the clowns of the piece. Greenberg in particular brings a lot of bouncy, slapstick spunk to her role, although Wright scores the play's biggest laughs when she compares the other Dromio's portly “kitchen-wench” to a globe of the earth: “I could find out countries in her.” (Feminists and body-image activists will cringe, but nobody has ever accused Shakespeare of being too PC.)
As straight men to the Dromios, Trowbridge and Golemba provide some funny reactions and double takes; one of these hilariously awkward scenes comes when Wright gets overzealous while telling the wrong Antipholus about the boat he's arranged for them, prompting baffled stares from Golemba, a local merchant and the officer arresting him. Fulton is also very good as Adriana, and Allan Louis arouses pity as Egeon, the Antipholuses' missing father from Syracuse.
When a cast is having as much fun as this one is, the audience can't help but feel it too. CanStage's Comedy of Errors is lightweight but solidly executed. Sometimes, that's all you want from an evening at the theatre.
The Comedy of Errors runs at the High Park Amphitheatre until September 6.
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