Review: ‘The Comedy of Errors’ at Cal Shakes (****)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: ****)

Danny Scheie as Dromio in Cal Shakes' "The Comedy of Errors". Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.
Danny Scheie as Dromio in Cal Shakes’ “The Comedy of Errors”. Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.
This reviewer is a votoing 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)

(“The Comedy of Errors”, presented by California Shakespeare Theatre, plays at the Bruns Amphitheatre in Orinda from June 25 through July 20.)

“The Comedy of Errors”, loosely based on earlier Roman comedies by Plautus, is one of Shakespeare’s first plays. It is an unpretentious, rollicking physical comedy, made for laughs, but not without weight. In it we find Shakespeare’s comic genius for bluster and buffoonery, as well as a hinted offer of melancholy wafting on the Ephesian breeze. The present fine production keeps the emphasis on the riotous comedy, where it belongs, but doesn’t fail to touch upon the poetry.

Once upon a time, there were two sets of infant twins separated in a shipwreck. Two of the twins were low born, destined to be servants; the other two were of a higher class. When master Antiphonus and servant Dromio arrive from Syracuse as visitors to Ephesus, they do not at first suspect that those same twins of theirs (also master Antiphonus and servant Dromio) are in residence. Of course, all four are repeatedly mistaken for one another, with farcical results.

What the Bard has given us here is a sturdy scaffold for clowning. With a company of actors boasting fine Shakespearean pedigrees along with ample circus credits, the result is pandemonium that keeps the laughs rolling.

(from l to r) Danny Scheie and Adrian Danzig as Dromio and Antipholus.
(from l to r) Danny Scheie and Adrian Danzig as Dromio and Antipholus.

Adrian Danzig enjoys a distinguished career as both actor and clown, moving easily from stage to circus. As the puzzled Antiphonus (both of them), he stretches all of his prodigious muscles on both counts. But he gets more than a run for his money from Danny Scheie who can’t seem to wave so much as a pinky without provoking laughter. Scheie has made quite a career of playing Shakespearean clowns (from Bottom to Dogberry to Launcelot Gobbo and more) and here he is at the top of his form. Watching these two careen about the stage (and through the house) like poetic pinballs is quite a treat!

Nemuna Ceesay as Adriana and Danny Scheie as Berne.
Nemuna Ceesay as Adriana and Danny Scheie as Dromio. Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.

These two linchpins of lunacy are ably supported by a cast that includes Ron Campbell (who played The King of the Clowns with Cirque de Soleil through four years of international touring), Cal Shakes stalwart Liam Vincent, Circus Smirkus alumna Tristan Cunningham, and former Director-in-Residence at SF Circus Center’s Clown Conservatory, Patty Gallagher. Dr. Gallagher (who is also a Ph.D.-wielding Professor of Theatre Arts at UC Santa Cruz and a Fulbright scholar) is dizzying to watch as both Mother Abbess of a convent and a burlesque dancing courtesan, played nearly simultaneously.

The remaining excellent cast member, Nemuna Ceesay, is the only leading company member whose program biography does not include an extensive clowning or circus resume. She must, at times, feel a bit like Margaret Dumont contending with the Marx Brothers, but she more than holds her own.

All of the production’s design elements elegantly enhance the enjoyment.

This company is having a blast with “The Comedy of Errors”. You will too.

For further information, click here.

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“The Comedy of Errors” by William Shakespeare, produced by California Shakespeare Theatre. Director: Aaron Posner. Set Design: Nina Ball. Costume Design: Beaver Bauer. Lighting Design: David Cuthbert.

Egeon/Angelo/Ensemble: Ron Campbell. Adriana/Ensemble: Nemuna Ceesay. Luciana/Ensemble: Tristian Cunningham. Antipholus: Adrian Danzig. Courtesay/Abbess/Ensemble: Patty Gallagher. Dromio: Danny Scheie. Duke/Balthasar/Enemble: Liam Vincent.

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