david leyshon, genevieve steele, stephen gartner, jonathan wilson & jeff schwager
Neptune Theatre’s 51st Season Opener, William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, boasts of having a cast featuring predominately local based actors, which makes it a promising beginning to Halifax’s theatrical year. George Pothitos’ production, which is set in 1974 Greece, is silly and full of fun and sure to bring merriment to an audience wishing to be transported to a warmer climate and a groovier time.
On the surface this early and shortest play of Shakespeare masquerades as being a frothy and farcical romp centering on the mistaken identities of two pairs of identical twins, separated shortly after birth and raised in different cities, who find themselves at the same place at the same time and inadvertently wreck havoc on a small town.
Stephen Gartner plays Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant’s name is Dromio, played by Jeff Schwager. Their lives are turned upside down when their twin brothers, Antipholus of Syracuse (David Leyshon) and Dromio of Syracuse (Jonathan Wilson) come to Ephesus. Gartner’s Antipholus is brash and womanizing, much to the chagrin of his wife, Adriana. Leyshon’s Antipholus is gentler, more of a laid back daydreamer whose sights become set on Adriana’s sister, Luciana. This also infuriates the much-vexed Adriana, who continually mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for her husband.
This cast has beautiful command of Shakespeare’s language, which in this play is filled with delightful word play and colourful insults. Thanks to the deft comic prowess of these actors Shakespeare’s jests still resonate easily and directly to the funny bone for a contemporary audience. Pothitos makes good use of Jeremy Webb and Simon Henderson’s Vaudevillian-esque comic chemistry, although I was secretly hoping for them to break the fourth wall and begin an improvised shtick of their own. There are some beautifully nuanced performances from Andrew Gillies and Mauralea Austin. Schwager and Wilson are endearingly hilarious as the two supremely awkward and much-abused Dromios and Marty Burt has a wordless cross as a crazed monk that brought down the entire house on Opening Night.
Overall, George Pothitos has a lot of fantastic elements in this production of The Comedy of Errors, but the play would benefit from them being tightened up. The comic elements could be pushed even further, especially the chase scene. Pothitos’ concept for staging the play in 1974 Greece is explained in the programme notes, but for those unfamiliar with 20th Century history of Greece and Turkey it is difficult to understand the political elements that are being drawn from the 1970s and those inherent in Shakespeare’s text and then even more challenging to connect how these two combined are relevant to us, the contemporary Canadian audience, today.
The Comedy of Errors is a challenging play in that its farcical plot loses its humour if the audience feels too much emotional investment in Genevieve Steele’s Adriana, whose husband treats her terribly, yet her reunion with him at the end is presented as the comedy’s solution and the characters living “happily ever after.” Even still, I wanted Steele to be able to give Adriana more depth, as I know Steele is more than capable of doing, especially because there is such compelling complexity in Adriana’s sister, played by Jody Stevens. Rather than gloss over the complexity and contradictory nature of Shakespeare’s problematic solution to the play’s machinations, it would have been a more interesting and a stronger choice for Pothitos to delve into it and explore it in a way that had resonance for the contemporary world.
The Comedy of Errors’ biggest strength is its silliness and the clarity with which the actors bring Shakespeare’s story to vivid life and how delightful it is to see a wide array of Halifax’s most talented actors sharing the Fountain Hall stage with their contemporaries from elsewhere in the country. That deserves an ardent celebration that is long overdue.
The Comedy of Errors plays at Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall Mainstage (1593 Argyle Street) until October 13th 2013. Showtimes are: 7:30pm Tuesdays to Fridays and Sundays, 4:00pm and 8:30pm on Saturday and 2:00pm on Sundays. Tickets are $25.00-$55.00 depending on Seating. For tickets please call the box office at 902.429.7070, visit in person at 1593 Argyle Street or go online. Also, ask about their Rush Tickets policy.