Full of Cozenage: COMEDY OF ERRORS

Photo courtesy Stratton McCrady Photography

Photo courtesy Stratton McCrady Photography

Presented by Actors’ Shakespeare Project
By William Shakespeare
Directed by David R. Gammons

September 24 – October 19, 2014
Brighton High School
26 Warren St. Brighton, MA
The Actors’ Shakespeare Project on Facebook

Review by Danielle Rosvally

(Brighton, MA) Life is a circus, my friends, and if that’s clear anywhere it’s clear in ASP’s Comedy of Errors. David R. Gammons gives us a Comedy within the frame of a has-been circus. As you walk into the theatre, you find the stage already teeming with life: a cast of rag-tag and second-rate clowns struggles to prepare for their show. I, for one, was curious as to why one of the only professional Shakespeare companies in Boston was performing in a High School auditorium. At least, until I walked into the high school auditorium. The space perfectly suits Gammons’ concept as it looks like the ruins of a once-grand theatre. Stripped to its studs, there is no veneer of illusion in Comedy; just bare-bones performance.

The sound and lighting design were dead on. David Wilson creates a soundscape which alternatingly gently underscores and sharply highlights the speech. There’s almost constant music beneath the production; ranging from subtle soporific tones to the sound of crossed swords. Jeff Adelberg crafts beauty from thin air with the incredible attention to detail paid in the lighting of this piece. Stark footlights create lofty shadows of the performers, while softer colored mood lighting allows ambient emotion to drift in and out of the periphery.

The performances were top-notch and add further ammunition to the age-old comedic truism that audiences simply can’t resist laughing at a man in a dress (…add a funny wig and it’s comedy gold). The thing about this particular performance of Comedy is that it is so thickly inscribed: the performers, in their dual roles as first clown then Shakespearean character, were forced to wear masks on top of their masks. This conceit generated performances of depth within one of Shakespeare’s more action-convoluted though character-simple pieces.

Eddie Shields particularly shines as the dark and brooding Jacque le Jacque, “the happiest clown in the world” playing the part of Dromio of Ephesus. There was always something behind his white makeup and gloomy gaze which told of loss and sorrow. Cameron M. Cronin in the role of Lazy Susan of Akron playing the Courtesan, Angelo, Jailer, and Servant was hammy enough to carry his multitude of ridiculous bits to their exact threshold without allowing them to go stale. Ryan O’Connor as Zsaasz the Contorting Skeleton in the roles of Pinch, 2nd Merchant, Nell, and Jailer manages to physically transform behind a full-face sugar-skull makeup job that seems to only enhance his facial acting ability.

This piece is a shining example of clowning in a modern world sadly devoid of clowns. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to see “rude mechanicals” “solve a problem” for two hours straight, go to Brighton and see this show. For that matter, if you’ve ever wanted to see a man strip down to his hilarious boxers while spouting Shakespearean love-poetry to one Siamese Twin (who, for this scene, is cross-dressed; the twin is a man, the character he plays is a woman) while simultaneously not waking the other from her sound sleep, then man oh man do I have a show for you.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention one thing: while I definitely enjoyed the performance and would recommend the trip out to see it, I have to put a caveat on it. The piece is funny, but it’s funny because of the frame, not because of any dexterity with the text. This may seem odd given that ASP is a Shakespearean company, but the one disappointment I left the theater with stemmed from the fact that the piece places the burden of its humor upon the “extra stuff” rather than finding it within Shakespeare’s words. This show is, essentially, a very well conceived and performed adaptation with little connection to its original. I almost felt like I wasn’t watching Shakespeare at all. This is a disturbing trend from ASP and one which this purist hopes will go out of season soon (…or at least be beaten into submission by a good text coach).

Despite my one grievance, it’s a show worth watching, and something the likes of which won’t be seen again… at least… not until Barnum and Bailey teaches their elephants to stampede in perfect iambic pentameter.

 

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