ANDERSON, Ind. — Turn off your cell phone. There’s no such device where you’re going anyway.
When you step through the doors of Anderson’s Mainstage Theatre, you’ll walk back into Elizabethan England. You’ll be part of the crowd at Shakespeare’s Globe, gathered to see “The Comedy of Errors.”
Even if you don’t think Shakespeare’s your thing, plan to enjoy and to come away smiling from this early comedy by the Bard as directed by Karen Sipes. The work dates to 1594, but it’s timeless in its familiar if outlandish conundrums and slapstick antics. The cast delivers Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter conversationally and expressively, with crisp enunciation, making it easy to follow.
Sipes and her crew have carefully seen that the stage, the play, the costumes and the setting serve to transport us back to the day, yet deftly convey the comedic elements with which we cannot fail to connect. She implemented a number of delightful touches to lend sparkle and spontaneity to the work.
One of those devices is the character of the Jester - a wonderful invention played by Maggie Williams. The Jester never utters a line, but speaks volumes throughout the production. Clad in black and white, with the face of a mime, the Jester facilitates and punctuates the action with expressive faces and gestures.
The tale unfolds when Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse played by Bill Malone, is sentenced to death by the Duke of Ephesus (Rick Vale) for violating the ban against Syracusan travel into Ephesus. The Duke allows him a day to raise money to redeem himself from execution after hearing the sad tale that brought Egeon to Ephesus in search of a long-lost son and wife.
The comedy rests on the simple fare of mistaken identities. The son that Egeon raised, Antipholus of Syracuse (Elijah Dotson), also comes to Ephesus in search of his long-lost twin brother, who, unbeknownst to him, happens to be Antipholus of Ephesus (Gabe Porch).
Each of the two brothers also has a servant, who are also twins, Dromio of Syracuse (Andrew Persinger) and Dromio of Ephesus (Martin Stapleton). The ensuing confusion bewitches everyone, including the twins themselves and Adriana, wife of Antipholus of Ephesus (Marina Turner) and her sister, Luciana (Tara Tremaine).
And then there is the arrival of the masterfully cast Courtesan, played by Zachary Ryan Allen. There is no way not to notice this character in black boots, garters and corset accented with shrill red, leopard-lined drapery. The Courtesan primps and sasses, sashaying an ample mane of red curly hair atop easily the tallest person in the cast.
The black-hooded, hand-wringing Igor-esque Dr. Pinch, (the Duke’s alter-ego?) is another memorable character who seizes the stage for a brief moment.
Expect silly tomfoolery and a little bawdiness in this production. Like the slapstick of The Three Stooges there is ear-grabbing, walloping and the occasional knock-out caused by running into something. The very feminine Luciana inelegantly stomps across the stage as she drags Antipholus desperately holding onto her leg. Dromio’s attempt to get the door open at Antipholus’ house provides a hilarious if crass moment when merchants clasp kerchiefs to their noses.
The Jester sets the whimsical tone, but there are plenty of moments that lend twinkle to the farce. The actors are occasionally startled by a burst of edge-of-the-seat sound, or they freeze while one actor muses to the audience. At one point, Dromio of Syracuse breaks character to sit in the audience and comment caustically on the values of youth today. Puppets mimic and mock the action of the play from time to time.
The curtain call may not be written into the script anywhere, but it is not to be missed.
The play runs about two hours with one 15-minute intermission. The play starts today, and runs Aug. 23, 24, 25, 30 and 31 at the Anderson Mainstage Theate, 124 W. Ninth St., Anderson. All shows start at 7:30 p.m., except the Aug. 25 matinee which starts at 3 p.m. Call the box office at (765) 644-5111 to reserve a seat. Tickets are $10. Check out the website at www.mainstagetheatre.org.
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