note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Joe Coyne
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Spiro Veloudos
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Reviewed January 16, 2000 by Joe Coyne
Stealing the show in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's Shakespeare offering is Robert Saoud. He does have the toughest of competition from the balance of the cast for they are all guilty of attempted theft. Mr. Saoud plays both Egeon (the father of the twins-Group Noble) and the a strange conjurer. He captures the first scene in a prolonged wordless mope, only to enliven the continuing scene in a frenetic pantomime with Emilia (Beth Gotha) as his wife. A demi-strobe effect combined with tinkling ivories and a voice over introduces us to this the shortest of Shakespeare's plays, "The Comedy of Errors." Right then we know there will be comedy tonight!
Let it be clear this is not a favorite play of mine. It does not rank. With the exception of the tour of Nel's body in the first act there are not many written laughs. If Shakespeare floated by on his weak writing in the initial acts and let the actors carry the weight, there is little reason not to follow suit. Some audiences despite the clear lead in the title ("comedy") need expressed authorization to laugh. This may come from the other members of the audience or even from one single member who leads the way and permits laughter to be disgorged. The earlier it arrives the better for all of us. In this production we are had with these opening scenes following with the arrival of two baskets of identical babies. We are off to a LeManz start and the zaniness seldom wags.
Set in the illusive island of Ephesus, here it is a mock up of a back lot at Paramount with stars of stage and screen of yesteryear filling the different roles. Costumes are roaring twenties; the two servants, Dromioes, as silent screen Chaplins; the police as keystone cops and an ogleable courtesan prances in a feather boa see through robe. This production utilizes physicality when the lines distort and utilizes physicality when lines work well. It weaves the speeches with zany warp and slapstick stichk weft. You join the mayhem viscerally.
In introducing the performance, director Spiro Veloudos takes a moment to comment on the Boston based nature of the actors in the production. The quality of the acting is primary; that they are from Boston is secondary. Long may Spiro produce the scripts that will keep them here and it will be a challange to keep the likes of John Kuntz who might well have wanted to play more characters, if not all the characters. He is Twin #2 of Antipholus of Ephesus, but what of these names. You can get lost in the description or reading, but not in watching this production. You have Clifford Allen as Ollie waiting a delicious pause before he thanks one of the twins with, "appreciating your humor sir". The delivery obtains the laugh and at the expense of Mr. Kuntz who serves up the floater. Andrea Walker as Luciana, sister to a twinly wife, is caught in the confusion between the twins and selfishly dreams through every moment of it. And voluminous voluptuous is too mild a word pair for Jennifer Valentine who MaeWests her way through Shakespeare's lines timing the lightest of hand waves and admonishing Bruinlike hipcheekchecks to ogling admirers.
Company Scaramouche (a Clifford Allen connection) choreographed the keystone chase scene in the narrow streets of the town. More than a dozen were chasing through the square, running into each over, hiding out in plain sight. Leading the chase was the arch fiend Dr. Pinch (Robert Saoud again) conjuring up what may have been a few extra extras as the Dromioes and Antipholuses were arriving left and right stage. This is Shakespeare's first comedy and his wrap up (the recognition scene) ties up any loose ends and some that were not even loose. It is the Dromioes that have the last lines and rather than go one before the other, they join hands and go like brother and brother.
Mr. Kuntz is so good - spurting water as a fountain, falling down the high ladder, explaining in detail. . . crazy. . . energetically. . . disorganized making. . .little sense. . . the facts as to why he is not deranged. His little poke and pinch with Balthasar is workaday inventive.
So I have a plan that I ask you not to reveal to him. One that I hope other reviewers will adopt. No one should give him a good review so he will not go to New York and be a Star. Ignore him. Stop lauding him just because he is so good. Do this and Boston will be the beneficiary of the action. Just because he was sparkling as a loony Hamlet in "R & G are Dead", has his own award winning solo productions and plays a weird elf to weirder Santa Clauses. I will work on this.
While purist might find the Hollywood setting in unacceptable, both they and Shakespeare would have an entertaining evening while they considered the question. Don't go if you are wondering if the darkness of Egeon and that of Antipholus of Ephesus will be evidenced, nor go for any moral guidance. There is no darker side in this production, as well there should not be. Harold Bloom in his 745 page opus (sans index) dedicates but 7 pages to "Comedy of Errors". He has said, "We need to exert ourselves and read Shakespeare as strenuously as we can." Strenuous this. I say get a life Harold. Take in a play. Preferably one at The Lyric and exert yourself strenuously because this one ends on February 6th.
January 7, 2000