From beginning to end, The Comedy of Errors is a giant clusterfuck of mistaken identity, conflicted courtship, and unfair accusations. Even though it’s Shakespeare’s shortest play, the variations on yes-you-did-no-I-didn’t can get a little tedious. Fortunately, Classical Actors Ensemble have created a zesty and engaging production for local park performances, giving the 16th-century farce a 20th-century twist.
The plot hinges on extended confusion between two men, both named Antipholus, identical twins separated in infancy, both played here by Jake Sung-Guk Sullivan. The brothers’ parents bought a pair of low-born twins for them as slaves, and each Antipholus still retains his own Dromio (both played by Timothy Daly). When Antipholus/Dromio of Syracuse go looking for their long-lost twins and arrive in Ephesus, the fact that everyone there seems to recognize them somehow doesn’t tip the two off to the fact that they may be nearing their goal.
With sets and costumes that suggest mid-century America, director Marika Proctor turns this Comedy into a tale of two coasts. Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse have a dopey skater vibe straight out of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus, on the other hand, have Brooklyn accents and brutish tendencies that are more along the lines of Goodfellas.
The broad caricatures work: Despite very minimal costume changes, we never have trouble telling the pairs apart. Proctor and the ensemble manage, with a few simple props and a little help from an audience volunteer, to have the brothers share scenes and even walk off into the sunset together at the end.
Marci Lucht goes full diva as Adriana, spouse of the more settled Antipholus. Waving a martini glass and perpetually brimming with indignation, she’s more than ready for The Real Housewives of Ephesus. Nissa Nordland Morgan plays Adriana’s sister Luciana, and Morgan’s sweeter demeanor pairs nicely with Lucht’s sour pucker.
The two open the show singing Irving Berlin’s “Sisters,” one of the several pop songs that serve as interstitial entertainments between Ephesian escapades. An indoor production could have done without the musical numbers, but in an al fresco setting, the songs help to keep the sprawling audience focused and engaged.
By Friday night’s season-opening performance in St. Louis Park, the cast were already a tight unit, completely comfortable with the material and riffing on the silly situations with enough winking asides to let the audience know they’re in on the joke, but not enough to turn the show into sheer camp. The campiest character, to the crowd’s delight, is the Courtesan — played by Thomas Henry with a coat of bright lipstick and a sassy jut of the hips.
New York’s Public Theater is stoking controversy with its Trump-as-Caesar, but in the Twin Cities this summer, Shakespeare in the park means pure frothy fun with this game and goofy Comedy of Errors.