SSC scores with Scheie’s ‘Comedy of Errors’ reboot
Longtime local theatergoers may remember Danny Scheie’s original staging of “The Comedy of Errors” as possibly the single funniest production ever mounted at Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Premiered in the 1988 season and encored in 1993, it made full use of the outdoor Festival Glen, including a bicycle-built-for-four that came roaring down the hillside, and a massive upstage wall with Laugh-In style open-and-shut windows that turned Shakespeare’s frolicsome early comedy about two sets of twins, mistaken identities, and male-female relations into a literal slamming-door farce.
In celebration of SSC’s 30th Anniversary season, Scheie returns with a lively reboot of “The Comedy of Errors.” Although scaled back for the indoor Mainstage with John Iacovelli’s single, functional wall and a couple of chairs for a set, and eight intrepid performers handling some 20 speaking parts, this “Comedy” retains all of the laughs.
Indeed, the smaller venue adds a whole extra layer of laughs when we can see all the actors’ facial expressions, while giving Scheie the chance to further hone his brilliant idea of a somewhat seedy troupe of traveling players putting on a show for “the rubes.”
The concept is laid out in a witty pre-play monologue by one of the actresses (a hilarious Carly Cioffi) yakking on the phone before the show (“We don’t have enough actors,” she frets), an ingenious device that also incorporates thanking the sponsors and asking the audience to turn off their cell phones. This also explains why two actors (SSC stalwarts Mike Ryan and Brad DePlanche) are stuck playing dual roles as two sets of twins—the traveler, Antipholus, and his manservant, Dromio, from Syracuse, who wreak havoc in Ephesus when they’re mistaken for their local counterparts, twin brothers from whom both were separated in infancy.
Ryan is wonderful as both sweet-natured, but increasingly distressed Antipholus of Syracuse, and his flip-side, the short-fused, ireful Antipholus of Ephesus. DePlanche (who also played the Dromios in the 1993 production) is a riot in his bellhop uniform as the Dromios, one childish, the other savvy, especially in his priceless mugging as each servant stretches to parry the witty Shakespearean wordplay lobbed back and forth. (Even if you don’t get the jokes, DePlanch cracks you up.) Susan Engbrecht is a fine, raging Adriana, wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, fed up with her weirdly changeable husband, and Carly Cioffi is great fun again as her dizzy blonde, eager-to-please Kewpie doll of a sister, Luciana.
Beethovan Oden (as both a formidable Duke, and a sassy boa-wielding courtesan), the delightful Joan Mankin, and an unflappable Brad Myers are all terrific in various quick-change supporting roles. And special kudos to one-man-band Jonathan Shue, onstage throughout, who not only plays the banjo all night to underscore the action (when a sad tale unfolds, he strikes up the theme to Gone With The Wind) and provides Spike Jones-style sound effects (from honking horn to whistle, to kazoo), but also fills in with a line of dialogue whenever necessary. This entertaining cast and Scheie’s fiendishly clever design make for a “Comedy” that would surely tickle the old Trouper of Avon himself.
“The Comedy of Errors” plays through Aug. 28 at the UCSC Mainstage. For tickets call (831) 459-2159, or visit shakespearesantacruz.org.