Comedy of Errors: A Small Ensemble Production With Seattle Shakespeare Company

Mimetic conflict — or comedy? 

Seattle Shakespeare Company’s latest adaption of Comedy of Errors began last weekend and has put a new twist on the classic concept, with its small ensemble cast of five actors playing eighteen different characters at once. 

When identical twins named Antipholus and their identical twin servants named Dromio are split up on a shipwreck, one pair is rescued by a Syracusian ship, the other, by an Ephesian. Newly monikered Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse and Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus grow up separately, lost to each other, until the Syracusian pair one day finds themselves in Ephesus, unaware of the presence of their twins. A disastrous confusion of mistaken identities ensues.

Through its telenovela-inspired staging, costuming, and score design, director Jimmy Shields all but abandons the ancient Mediterranean setting (excepting the gorgeous set, which is a distinct if contemporized nod) and full-throttles the quintessential spy music, flamboyant tailcoats, and cacophonic soap-opera shouting matches. 

But where the melodrama falls flat, the physical comedy shines. Choreographer Lexi Warden and Intimacy/Fight Director Francesca Betancourt bring out the best between the spoken lines. The cast’s movement is often vaudeville inspired or stylized like a slapstick cartoon, to great effect. Rhys Daly exudes a gracefully flustered Luciana punctuated by the oh-so-clean skip-hop here, or little curtsy, just-so, there, while Kathy Hsieh doesn’t need a costume to distinguish her four roles, only a posture (or possibly a hilariously self-important, police-badge-carrying, arms-swinging strut.)

The heavily played farce does tend to wear itself out, and I wished for more sincerity: less clamorously overexaggerated jokes, more toned down, self-serious commitment to the bit. If the production had one Achilles heel, it’s that it forgets Comedy of Errors is more than a stand-up routine; as a tale about the delicacy of what it means to be an individual, the story’s philosophical side needs room to breathe. 

But in the second half of the play, a welcoming refresher arrives in the form of the cast’s embrace of a flurry of quick-change impossibilities rather than avoidance of them. When Jesse Calixto’s Nun emerges stern-faced from the church, the sight of Courtesan’s fuschia suit pants and white converse visible underneath her habit is one to remember. By the end of the show, one has the impression that all eighteen characters are on the stage at once. 

And Ayo Tushinde, who stars as both Antipholuses, offers audiences dry but cordial fourth-wall microexpressions that gracefully balance the slapstick. It’s when you can tell the cast is having fun, here, that the characters really shine, and the overall effect is playfully zany; at times campy, at times, overcome with queer sincerity as one sweetly earnest romance discovers it might be more than just a mistaken identity.

Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s more accessible plays today even centuries after its conception, not just through its status in the theatrical canon, but through the timelessness of its comedic methods. Because Shakespearian audiences ranged from kings to the rowdy groundlings who stood in front of the stage, his comedy tends toward a unique kind of universality. And with its melange of laughter both poetic and middle school, all interspersed with betrayal, madness, expensive rope, and sword-fighting, Seattle Shakespeare Company proves that Comedy of Errors does, indeed, have the range, even if its notes are a little shaky in the upper octaves. 

 

Comedy of Errors, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Center House Theatre at Seattle Center, 305 Harrison, Seattle, 98109. Wed—Sat 7:30pm Sat & Sun matinée 2:30pm until January 28. 

Tickets, including dates of accessible performances: https://seattleshakespeare.my.salesforce-sites.com/ticket/#/events/a0S8Z00000EW6ulUAD

Transportation: Take the #8 To Seattle Center, RapidRide D Line to Queen Anne Ave N & W John Street, or Light Rail to Westlake Station and monorail. Limited street parking. There are multiple parking garages in Seattle Center, with more information here: https://www.seattlecenter.com/visitor-info/parking 

N.B. The Center Theatre is located on the first floor of the Armory. Enter into the Armory and proceed downstairs, then follow the signs to The Center Theatre. There are also doors directly into the theatre on the east side of the building, facing the MoPOP.

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