Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Confusion Reigns in Door Shakespeare's Kinetic "Comedy of Errors"

By Russ Bickerstaff
comedy of errors
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Milwaukee-based director Leda Hoffmann is clearly having a lot of fun with The Comedy of Errors. The production she is directing as it is being staged with Door Shakespeare in Bailey's Harbor. That fun is kinetic enough to transfer to the stage in the intimate outdoor theater in Door County. The trees and their leaves serve as much of the set of the outdoor space with only a couple of constructed doors accompanying them. The costuming has an early 20th century feel that is contemporary enough to come across as being comfortably hipster.

Jesse Dornan and Michael Perez play twin Antipholuses who become victims of increasingly complex mistaken identity scenarios. The two actors looks similar enough to pass as being identical. However, there is always a bad suspension of disbelief that happens with a production like this. Aided as it is by outstanding costuming economically crafted by Caitlin Lux. There is just enough there to suggest a mirror image without going overboard. Overall the costuming lends itself quite well to establishing a mood and a setting without getting overly ornate.

Dornan has the tall, lean look of an Antipholus who is quite pleasantly surprised and quite often confused at how well he has received in a town he's never been to. Michael Perez plays to be more whimsically outraged and the same spectrum as the Antipholus he is mistaken for. Rather than playing too closely to the anger, Perez grants him a kind of mirth serves to make him more endearing without compromising the dramatic dynamic of the farce.

The comedy is drawn quite heavily from social discomfort. One character always seems to be talking to another in a fashion that is a very confident and very certain while the other stares on confusion. Misunderstanding and false confidence are present throughout the play. What I love about this particular production is that the silent end of any conversation is amplified. We see the misunderstanding very clearly through the eyes of the one who is misunderstanding as strange things are being spoken to them. Hoffmann seems to be fostering this to brilliant effect. So often the comedy of misunderstanding is allowed to be its own comedy without embellishment. Hoffmann seems to be giving those in a state of confusion a little bit of room to be more vividly confused. This adds quite a bit to the comedy. That the cast is able to do this without making it feel clownishly exaggerated is what makes it so effective. 

A particularly clever example of this sort of comedy is manifest in a moment between Dornan's Antipholus and Elyse Edelman in the role of Luciana. She believes that he is the husband of her sister. He knows that he is not. He likes the way she is trying to convince him to at least pretend to be in love with his wife. She speaks so eloquently that he falls in love with her. And the comedy ensues. Edelman has a breathtakingly expressive face. We see every kind of emotion wash over her face in quick flashes as Antipholus expresses his admiration. It's one of the funnier moments in the production.

Leslie Ann Handelman provides a solid dramatic grounding for the production and the role of Goneril. She's got a very strong and assertive presence that everything seems to gravitate towards onstage. Her charismatic energy helps drive the earnest emotion that is at the heart of the comedy. She quite effectively provides a refreshingly honest counterpoint to all of the outlandish that the rest of the comedy spends so much of its time playing with.

Door Shakespeare's production of The Comedy of Errors runs through Aug. 16 in Bailey's Harbor. For more information, visit Door Shakespeare online.


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