‘The Comedy of Errors,” one of Shakespeare’s early plays, is broad comedy and could be a parody of his later mistaken identity plays.
The Central Coast Shakespeare Festival has taken advantage of this slapstick style and placed it in a Vegas-like setting, casting some of the characters in reverse gender. Add Shakespeare’s language, and the unique production is almost surreal.
The leading men are played by women, and the leading women by men. The casino town set is a good excuse for flamboyant costuming, with showgirls in sequins and feathers, an Elvis impersonator, a gypsy fortuneteller, and a dominatrix courtesan.
The Bard’s witty dialogue is fast-paced, and the action speeds by as two sets of twins are mistaken for each other over and over again, until even they don’t know who they are. When it’s over, neatly tied up, you might ask, “What just happened?”
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The story is about two sets of identical twin brothers who were separated during a shipwreck, grew up apart, but end up in the same town. They are Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus and their manservants, Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus.
Antipholus of Ephesus is married to Adriana, and they live with her sister, Luciana. No one can tell the Dromios or Antipholuses apart, not even their servants or wife.
Emily Candia plays one Antipholus, and Janet Stipicevich plays the other. Dressed in suits and ties, they are obviously the male characters. The Dromios, their manservants, are played by Erika Appel and Jessica Boles, who do look alike in their simple costumes. They are good as they bounce from master to master, constantly confused. Their running joke is often briefly seeing each other and doing a double take as they recognize themselves in each other.
The men who play the women, Adriana and Luciana, are much more colorful. Tyler Lopez (Adriana) and Gregory Gorrindo (Luciana) are tall, towering over the “men.” They are also flamboyant, even attractive, in elegant dresses. They are comic standouts in the cast, getting the most audience reaction when they are on-stage.
It would have been more fun if the women who play the men had added a little more macho, exaggerated masculinity to their roles, as the men did with their “femininity.” The men playing women accent their gender roles with mannerisms and body language — the women playing men don’t.
Some of the other characters are played in reverse gender, some are not, making the mix interesting, if slightly unsettling.
Yet, the casting somehow complements the setting. It would have been interesting to have had a comment in the program from director Teresa Thuman on the theory behind the reverse gender casting. As the Bard says, “Every why has a wherefore.”
The play is peppered with Shakespeare’s clever comic dialogue, but sometimes it goes by so fast that it’s missed. There is one classic exchange where a fat woman is described as the globe, with each part of her body a different country. In Shakespeare’s time, this play was likely funny in a contemporary way. Now it could be a prototype for the typical farce, which has endured in one way or another for centuries.
The stage is simple, with signs noting a nightclub, a casino and a wedding chapel. The setting allows for some artistic freedom like a lip-syncing Elvis song and dance number. Nathan Brown is set designer, Jason Sumabat is choreographer, and Jennifer Keller coordinated the colorful, sometimes surprising costumes.
The outdoor setting itself, a rolling lawn facing a lake, is always part of the ambience of this lovely spot. Seating is on the grass, with your own chairs or blankets. Picnics are welcome and beverages are for sale. Be sure to bring some warm clothes, as it’s not always balmy, and when the sun goes down it can be quite cold.