The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s shortest, arguably least-moving comedy, is done no favors with the Shakespeare Theatre Company production going on at the Lansburgh now until Nov. 4.
Reduced to 90 minutes by director Alan Paul and yet somehow still too long — complete with three or four expendable-at-best new songs — this Greece-set show about long-lost twins, shipwrecks, and how best to beat one’s servants (often, turns out) feels itself rather shipwrecked, stranded on an ancient isle where gay panic jokes are still funny, broad ethnic caricatures are still appropriate, and it’s literally not possible for the cast to give an exuberant “opa!” too many times. (It is, though. Stop it.) The offensive material comes in forms both new and old: They manage to squeeze a rectal exam into the exorcism scene, but don’t worry — they didn’t have to cut any of the fat jokes. My theatre companion asked afterwards: “Why didn’t they just have a character in blackface?”
Call it The Comedy of Unforced Errors.
If you were on a quest to find your long-lost twin and your manservant’s long-lost twin, wouldn’t it be a bit of a tell when people in a strange town you’re visiting for the first time start acting like they know you, like they’re married to you, or like they’ve previously discussed business with you? Not so for Antipholus of Syracuse (Gregory Wooddell saves as many of the jokes as anyone can), and his servant Dromio (Carson Elrod, trying to keep his head above water) though it might have helped if their parents hadn’t all been so blindingly, unrealistically stupid as to give twin sons the same name. So Antipholus of Ephesus (Christian Conn takes the rage to 11 and kinda leaves it there), and his servant Dromio (Carter Gill is good with the patter) are locked out of their own house and eventually arrested for reneging on nonexistent debts, while his estranged Syracusan brother beds his wife, falls in love with his sister-in-law, and accepts his gold from the town jeweler.
Sound actually rather impish and enjoyable? Well indeed it is rather impish and enjoyable, when it isn’t being trampled by winking performances in drag, gay predators, Greeks with bushy mustaches and hairy shoulders, lisping Ibizans, and, oh yeah, some truly egregious musical numbers, with melodies that feel stolen from “Fiddler of the Roof,” “Batboy,” and the nightmares of a middle school choir teacher. Yes, it’s quite fun that that three police officers can tap dance. Surely this is what Shakespeare is all about.
I loved Gabriel Barry’s costumes, lights from Mary Ellen Stebbins, and the performances of Veanne Cox as Adriana and Folami Williams as Luciana — all of the best scenes have at least one of these two women in them.
Less so the cloying sound design from Christopher Baine, static fight choreography by David Leong, and James Noone’s neither-believable-nor-pretty set, which spins and unfurls like a child’s paper fortune teller, but one that always tells you you’re going to marry the class mouth-breather who eats scabs.
By the time the exorcist shows up with a Colonel Sanders suit and we-thought-it-would-be-funny-for-no-reason Southern accent, you’ll be squirming in your seat. And the Benny Hill-style running pandemonium climax isn’t nearly as amusing as it could be.
There are some laugh-out-loud moments, but not enough to secure a pardon for this Comedy, which packs about 20 “opa!”s worth of false exuberance into its single act of runtime. Stop the shipwreck, please, I want to get off.