Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cal Shakes - The Comedy of Errors

I had resigned myself to the fact that the reading that I would do this summer would consist primarily of comic books and audio books, and I wasn't going to feel guilty about it. (I like to do a lot of reading over the summer.) I realized that I should probably read William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors though before I went to see it at Cal Shakes since I was completely unfamiliar with it, and I don't like to watch Shakespeare without having at least a decent understanding of the story beforehand.

Lucky for me, it's an awfully short play. I didn't even bother picking up a version of the play with a plain English translation this time, figuring that since comedies tend to be easier to comprehend, I'd get along just fine without it. I turned out to be correct, although I read summaries of the first two acts just to get everybody squared away in my head first, and then I was able to pretty much just breeze through the rest of it, using my Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

Obviously, it's one of Shakespeare's comedies, and one of his earlier ones at that. It doesn't delve into any deeper subject matter like The Merchant of Venice, and it doesn't have as much sincere heartfelt joy as Much Ado About Nothing. It's basically just a big ridiculous situation involving two sets of twins and a lot of cases of mistaken identity. From what I read, Shakespeare lifted the plot from an Ancient Greek comedy and added a few extra layers to it (as he pretty much always does when he adapts something) and, of course, his own clever wordplay.

I was worried that it might be a bit confusing, as the plot involves not only two sets of twins, but each set shares the same first name. In other words, there's Antipholus from Ephesus and his twin brother, Antipholus from Syracuse. Neither one of them knows of the existence of the other, and when the one from Syracuse visits Ephesus, many people confuse him for his brother (including his brother's wife). On top of that, Antipholus of Syracuse has a servant named Dromio, who has a twin brother with the same first name who serves Antipholus of Ephesus. Confused yet? Well, it was harder to keep track of who's who when I was reading it than when I was watching it. (Which confirms that Shakespeare's works are meant to be seen in a performance, not necessarily read as a book.) This is especially impressive considering that one actor played the Antipholus from Syracuse and the one from Ephesus. Same situation for the Dromio of Syracuse and the one from Ephesus.

All in all, it was a fun show, and the actors all did a nice job of breathing life into the text. My wife and I have seen a few of these actors before, like Danny Scheie, Nemuna Ceesay, and Liam Vincent (the latter two were both in this summer's excellent production of A Raisin in the Sun). I'm fairly certain that I've seen Ron Campbell before in past productions as well, and I'll be darned if he wasn't channeling a little bit of the Marx Brothers in his performance as Angelo, the merchant. It was also pretty cool how the actors would go out into the audience and sometimes even interact with the crowd a bit. Comedies tend to lend themselves to that kind of silliness.

If all you know of Shakespeare are his tragedies that you likely learned in school, then you ought to check out his comedies. It wasn't all deep introspection followed by doom for the man. He knew how to write stuff that was silly and fun, and sometimes that's just what we need. I especially recommend checking out this particular play if you're familiar with a lot of his others, as you can see that while this probably wouldn't have survived the centuries had it been the only play the man wrote, it's interesting to see some of his more interesting ideas begin their germination in this early work.

Next up? Pygmalion, followed by A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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