"The Comedy of Errors" Presented by the Woodward Shakespeare Festival

by Terrance McArthur

To put it bluntly, William Shakespeare was a thief.

He took plots from history, stole from tales from other countries, and borrowed from headlines of the day. The thing that took him from common criminal to literary genius was his ability to re-clothe his sources and transform them into amazing theatre. For instance, he took The Menaechmi, a comedy by the Roman playwright Plautus about separated twins, doubled the “twinnage,” and created The Comedy of Errors, which has been re-mounted by the Woodward Shakespeare Festival as the first show of their 15th season, playing at the Festival Stage in Woodward Park through May 18.

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The May opening is earlier than past seasons, to beat the heat of the Valley summers. The second show, Richard II, will be indoors in July at the Severance Building on Wishon Avenue, and Antony and Cleopatra will close the year in September and October back at Woodward Park, after temperatures have dropped. To these changes, I say…”Cool!”

Separated at birth, Antipholus of Syracuse (Rene Ponce) arrives in Ephesus with his servant Dromio (Katie Osle), looking for his twin brother. Antipholus of Ephesus (Patrick Wall) and his servant Dromio (Gabriel Biswas) live there. The mistaken identities pile up fast and furiously as the Ephesus wife (Laura Dodds) and her sister (Jessica Johnson) compound the confusion. With a golden chain, a rotund kitchen wench, love of the wrong sister, bags of gold, merchants demanding payment for goods given to the wrong person, a phony-baloney doctor, and a mercenary courtesan added to the mix, everybody thinks somebody is somebody else, and they don’t even know that the father of the Antipholuses (Luis Ramentas) is arrested and condemned to die because Syracuse and Ephesus are having a trade war.
Cast of "The Comedy of Errors"

Ellicia Mertens Elliott came south from Washington to direct the production, which is set in an imaginary Ephesus with a vaudeville style, touches of burlesque, breast-shelving costumes for the women, mime, and Three Stooges slapstick where the slaps obviously never really land.

Ponce is jovial and gentle (except when he is beating on the nearest Dromio), while Wall is thin, angular, and spring-loaded. You can tell the difference, even with similar costumes (they look rather Hardy & Laurel-ish), but you don’t care, because it’s so much more fun to go with the flow. Osle and Biswas look more similar, and more mistakable, impish and quick with the punch line.

Dodds is more powerful and commanding than the usual whininess of the wife I’ve seen in other productions, while Johnson has a loopy cuteness that enlivens her frantic panic when the Antipholus she thinks is her brother-in-law starts to woo her. Ramentas ably manages the father’s lengthy exposition with the help of some nimble pantomime illustrations from others in the cast.

K.D. Younger brings a stately bearing to the Duchess of Ephesus, stern but just, and goes full-tilt as Dr. Pinch, a metaphysician without a clue. Kathie Mollica serves as a jailer and the Abbess who holds the key to all the mysteries that need unraveling. Kayla Weber sashays as the courtesan with a heart of gold (if you’ve got the gold). David Miller scrambles across the stage in an outfit that combines Alice’s Mad Hatter with Dickens’ Copperfield’s Mr. Micawber.

Charles West is a visual comedic pun as Nell, a woman of parts, described as “spherical, like a globe; one could find countries upon her.”

The Comedy of Errors has always been my favorite Shakespeare play, partly because it was the first of the Bard’s works I was ever in, nearly 50 years ago. There is a lot to like in this brisk version, which has a running time near the 90-minute mark.

WSF is committed to free Shakespeare in the park, although parking in the park costs $5 if the entrance booth is manned. Feel free to donate to keep this theatrical experiment running in Fresno. The stage is near the north entrance. Take a short walk, and remember that the show starts at 8 p.m. You can find more details about this year's Woodward Shakespeare Festival season on their website.

You’ve never been so confused, and so glad to be so.

If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat's Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. The first 17 episodes are now up! You can check the podcast out on iTunes and Google Play, and also on podbean. A new episode just went up this week!

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Librarian in Fresno County, California. He is also a storyteller, puppeteer, magician, and maker of pine needle baskets. On top of that he writes stories that range from rhymed children's tales to splatterpunk horror. He's an odd bird, but he's nice to have around.

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