Review: ‘A Comedy of Errors’ at Marin Shakespeare Company

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: *****)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“A Comedy of Errors” at Marin Shakespeare Company plays from July 27 through September 29, 2013, at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre on the campus of Dominican University in San Rafael, California.)

Marin Shakespeare Company’s commedia dell arte approach to “A Comedy of Errors”, set in rural Texas with original country songs by Marin songwriter Leslie Harlib is a production of uneven success in a style like that of the San Francisco Mime Troupe.

The premise is fine. The story translates well to its rural setting. It is fun to hear the actors intone Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English with convincing Texas accents and they are all expert comedians who know how to deliver the jokes. The greatest success of the production is a very  funny turn by Jon Deline as Dromio, performing in the style of a rodeo clown. Deline has an impressive background in clowning, with credits that include Teatro Zinzani and Pi, and he knows how to bring the funny. His performance alone makes this comedy worth seeing.

Also excellent are Harlib’s charming melodies and clever lyrics which are consistently professional in every respect.

Patrick Russell and Jon Deline in "A Comedy of Errors" at Marin Shakespeare Company. Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin.
Patrick Russell and Jon Deline in “A Comedy of Errors” at Marin Shakespeare Company. Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin.

This is a production with many charms, but serious problems in excecution. First, Elizabethan English with a Texas accent is funny, but not continuously. I found myself wishing that the story had been adapted without the original language. There is precedent, from “West Side Story” to “Kiss Me Kate” to “10 Things I Hate About You”. It could work.

Secondly, and of more concern, the actors have excellent Shakespearean chops, but are seriously lacking as musical comedy performers. Harlib’s score demands a level of expertise and “sell” that the company couldn’t deliver. The result is disappointing.

In short, this is the right play (particularly if the adaptation were to be rewritten entirely in modern English) by the wrong company. The premise, and the excellent score, deserve better. Given an update in the language and a skilled musical comedy cast, this could be quite wonderful.

Unfortunately, an overcooked Jewish indian joke, which takes up a good deal of the final sequence, is a regrettable misfire which some may find to be in poor taste, as did I.

There is enough here to make a good evening’s entertainment and there are plenty of laughs. The company makes an enthusiastic effort and the songs are good, but, in the end, this light confection doesn’t quite take flight as it should.

For further information, click here.

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“A Comedy of Errors” by William Shakespeare, produced by Marin Shakespeare Company, adapted and directed by Lesley Schisgall Currier and Robert Currier, with original songs by Leslie Harlib. Costumes: Tammy Berlin. Lighting: Ellen Brooks. Musical Direction: Robert Currier and Lucas McClure. Choreography: Lesley Schisgall Currier. Set: Shannon Walsh. Sound: Billie Cox. 

Adriana: Amanda Salazar. Aegeon: Jack Powell. Aemilia: Jessica Powell. Angela: Abby Sammons. Antipolus: Patrick Russell. Courtesan: Shirley Smallwood. Deputy: Kyle Stoner. Doctor Pinch: Gary Grossman. Dromio: Jon Deline. Luciana: Elena Wright. Luke:  Glenn Havlan. Sheriff Duke: Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly. Ensemble: Hayley Adams, Daniel Boarman, Alan Kendall, Jiawen Liang, Reagan Lopez, Antonio Perez de La Cruz.

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