Peter D. Kramer

Review: Playing ‘Comedy’ fast and loose

In Reviews on August 5, 2011 at 11:57 am

Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” is a kitchen-sink play, with plot twists you see repeated throughout the canon.

A shipwreck. Check.

Twins. Check, check. (It has two sets.)

A father searching for lost children. Check.

Mistaken identities. Check.

A last-minute twist and a happy ending. Check and check.

It has it all, all in one place, under the tent at the Boscobel Restoration in Garrison, during the 25th anniversary season at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. “Comedy” runs in repertory with the madcap “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Hamlet” through Labor Day. (Go to The Hudson Valley Shakespeare website for schedule and ticket information.)

Under the direction of festival fixture Kurt Rhoads and in the hands of the comic masters at Hudson Valley, this “Comedy” is loopy, fast and blissful, a feather-light comic soufflé ideal for a summer evening.

Rhoads populates his kitchen sink with freak-show oddities, lending a carnival atmosphere to the “Comedy” circus. There’s a bearded lady, a claw-handed merchant, deformed servants and a mermaid.

I don’t think we’re in Ephesus anymore.

But we all have our baggage, don’t we? And who knows? Perhaps love has the power to change things.

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick plot summary of “The Comedy of Errors”: Twin boys (both named Antipholus) have twin servants (both named Dromio). A shipwreck sends one Antipholus and his Dromio to Syracuse, the other Antipholus and his Dromio to Ephesus. When the Syracusans arrive in Ephesus and the divided twins finally share the same space — unwittingly — it sparks all sorts of mistaken identities and a lot of fun.

Rhoads directs briskly, but he’s also not afraid to let his actors take their moments.

It falls to festival stalwart Stephen Paul Johnson (as Egeon, father to the Antipholi and owner of the Dromios) to introduce the far-fetched premise, a task he completes with heart-breaking dispatch, spinning the sad story of being “severed from my bliss.”

After that moment of heartfelt emotion, we’re off on a head-spinning ride.

The winning Christian Adam Jacobs has a soulful take on Duke Solinus, accompanied by a band. (Was that a bit of “St. James Infirmary” we heard?) Jacobs is self-assured and laugh-out-loud funny, ad-libbing at one point that this is not the kind of story you’ll see in “Hamlet,” another festival offering this summer.

No, it’s not.

As the Antipholi, Michael Borrelli and Cold Spring’s own Lucky Gretzinger are a study in contrasts. They may dress alike and look enough alike to confuse all of Ephesus, but Borrelli’s Ephesian is more intense, fiery. Gretzinger’s Syracusan is a lover, a singer, and more than a little confused.

When Gretzinger is confused, he scratches his head; when Borrelli is confused, he scratches and claws.

The much-abused Dromios (a fully committed and pitch-perfect team of Gabra Zackman and Nance Williamson, in Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee fatsuits) serve dutifully and carry their own slapsticks — yes, actual slapsticks — for easy access by their masters. And those slapsticks get a workout. Both Dromios take their licks, understanding that this is their lot in life. There are servants and there are masters.

As Adriana, the Ephesian Antipholus’ wife, Katie Hartke is as intense as her husband, and she’s not taking inequality lying down.

“Why should their liberty than ours be more?” she wonders to her sister, Luciana, who doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

(“I’ll practice to obey,” says the unmarried Luciana.)

Hartke, a standout for years at Boscobel, finds all of Adriana’s colors, including a fringe of feathery pink. Valeri Mudek’s Luciana — by turns earnest, naïve and confused, but ever faithful — knows when to play for laughs and when to play it straight.

Johnson and Jacobs also shine in secondary roles: Johnson as the wacky Dr. Pinch and Jacobs as the wronged jeweler, Angelo.

Amy Clark’s costumes — from stunning saffron gowns to those hilarious fatsuits — aid and abet Rhoads’ vision to a tee, and William Neal’s sound effects — complete with clucking chickens and screeching cats — are a hoot.

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is blessed with a core of regular actors whom audiences have come to know as cherished members of their summer families. Season after season, for 25 years, troupe members have come and gone, tackling roles of all shapes and sizes. And we believe them.

Hudson Valley Shakespeare’s actors have a tradition of attacking their roles, comic or otherwise. They live them. And we believe them, even in a far-fetched story like “The Comedy of Errors.”

Wonderful thing.

The summer is winding down. Grab a picnic and a bottle of wine. Get to Boscobel.

“The Comedy of Errors” runs in repertory through Labor Day with “Around the World in 80 Days,” and “Hamlet.” Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Route 9D, Garrison. $21 to $60. 845-265-9575. Go to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival website.

(Photos by William Edward Marsh: Top photo, from left: Gabra Zackman, Dave Klasko, Christian Adam Jacobs and Nance Williamson. Second photo, from left: Katie Hartke, Michael Borrelli, Kate Eastman and Lucky Gretzinger. Third photo, from left: Michael Borrelli and Lucky Gretzinger as the Antipholi.)

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