It’s a good sign that the pinched, sour expression of Jennifer Lyon’s Duke draws laughs even before the first line of dialogue is uttered in Shakespeare in the Ruins’ production of The Comedy of Errors.
And the laughs keep coming for the next two hours and 15 minutes - provided you don’t take Shakespeare, or theatre, or very much of anything here all that seriously.
'This is not a deep play - after years of laboriously poring over texts in high school, most of us have probably never realized just how wonderfully dumb Shakespeare can be.' - Joff Schmidt
One of William Shakespeare’s earliest (and shortest) plays, the 1594 comedy is a classic farce of mistaken identities and comical misunderstandings. This one centres around not one, but two sets of identical twins - both separated at birth. Antipholus of Syracuse (Toby Hughes) and his servant Dromio (Kevin Klassen) find themselves in Ephesus.
Unbeknownst to Antipholus, this is the home to his twin brother - also named Antipholus (and also played by Hughes). And Antipholus of Ephesus also happens to have a servant named Dromio (Tom Keenan) - who happens to be the identical twin of Dromio of Syracuse.
Confused yet? Well imagine the marvelous misunderstandings that occur when the wrong Antipholus ends us encountering Adriana (Charlene Van Buekenhout), the wife of the other Antipholus. Or when the servants report to the wrong master. Or when a gold merchant (Rodrigo Beilfuss) tries to collect from the wrong Antipholus.
Suffice to say chaos abounds - and if you end up a bit puzzled from time to time, you’re not alone. And it doesn’t particularly matter. Edmonton director Ron Jenkins embraces that chaos in this production, which owes as much to the greats of slapstick - Chaplin, Keaton, the Three Stooges, Bugs Bunny - as to the Bard.
This is not a deep play - after years of laboriously poring over texts in high school, most of us have probably never realized just how wonderfully dumb Shakespeare can be. And this fantastically silly production seizes on that and milks it for all the low-brow laughs it can. Though the occasional gag feels a bit of a stretch (there are one or two too many musical interludes, and a few shrill moments), most of it delivers solid laughs.
From the umbrella/sword fight set to Boney M.’s “Rasputin” (nicely choreographed by Jacquie Loewen) to Rob McLaughlin’s deliciously over-the-top voodoo-inspired Dr. Pinch (accompanied by an assistant - Beilfuss - who is, for some reason, a chicken) to Lyon’s slinky turn as a riding crop-wielding courtesan (watch out, there’s audience participation), this production isn’t afraid to be goofy. And it pays off.
The nine-member ensemble (rounded out by Terri Cherniack and Laura Olafson) all run with the direction, and seem have fun doing it. It’s infectious - as we follow them throughout the Ruins, we’re caught up in the fun as well.
It’s “shut off your brain and enjoy” Shakespeare - but provided you’re willing to do that, you won’t go wrong with this Comedy of Errors.
Shakespeare in the Ruins’ The Comedy of Errors runs at the Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park until June 28.