‘Comedy of Errors’ at New Swan: That ’70s Shakespeare

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Scene from “The Comedy of Errors”

By Eric Marchese | Special to the NB Indy

Imagine this scenario: two pairs of identical twins, separated at birth, who years later somehow wind up in the same city at the same time. Neither pair knows the other exists. The comedic possibilities are almost endless.

Shakespeare obviously realized this in creating “The Comedy of Errors,” exploiting his premise to the max and thus making one of his earliest plays among the most popular of all his shows down through the centuries.

New Swan’s production show at U.C. Irvine isn’t the first time the Irvine company has indulged itself and its patrons with the show’s goofy tone and humor, and if you want a remedy for post-pandemic doldrums, this is it.

Director Eli Simon’s approach is aptly playful. First off, he has deliberately misspelled the show’s title with a surplus of “r”s (as “The Comedy of Errrorrs”). Secondly, he has set the story in the 1970s, giving himself and his production team a chance to showcase that period’s colorful apparel and singular rock music.

We’re in Ephesus, where Egeon (Sean Spann) has been sentenced to death for defying a travel ban. He pleads his case to the Duke of Syracuse (Greg Ungar), relating a fateful journey at sea where he was separated from his wife and one of his twin sons. Also separated were the twin infant boys Egeon had purchased as slaves.

Egeon is able to escape being put to death by relating the back-story and saying that as one of his sons had grown up in Ephesus and the other in Syracuse, he had come to Ephesus to search for his still-missing second son.

Scene from “The Comedy of Errors”

Putting the final capper on the craziness is that each set of twins has the same name, thereby preventing anyone from realizing the existence of “duplicate” Antipholuses and Dromios. While this scenario sounds farfetched, it’s the perfect catalyst for a world of comedic mayhem.

To wit: Antipholus of Ephesus (Robert Zelaya) is wealthy and well-respected, and his servant Dromio (Abel Garcia) carries out his every command. Likewise, Antipholus of Syracuse (Evan Lugo) is similarly faithfully attended to by a Dromio (Jax Dean).

The mishaps multiply exponentially. Both Dromios are wrongfully beaten by their masters. False accusations of theft and infidelity run rampant. Even worse are allegations of madness and demonic possession.

The combinations and permutations of mix-ups generated by the interactions of these four are enough to confuse and confound any reader – let alone the characters themselves. Suffice it to say that this “Comedy” is a theatrical confection rife with slapstick, puns and wordplay and, of course, mistaken identity.

Scene from “The Comedy of Errors”

Without exception, Simon’s actors sparkle. As the two pairs of often mismatched twins, Dean, Garcia, Lugo and Zelaya have a considerable amount of stage time, and they don’t disappoint.

Dean delivers a comic gem, his Dromio a hilarious airhead with a blank face and silly smile reminiscent of Keanu Reeves in some of his early career roles as a doofus. Garcia is markedly taller than Dean and his Dromio persona is more aggressive, but the resemblance between Garcia and Dean sufficiently creates the illusion of twins.

As Lugo’s Antipholus is new to Ephesus, the actor observes numerous times that all those around him are unusually friendly and their behavior bizarre. Zelaya, as the Antipholus native to Ephesus, spends a ton of time trying to unravel the crazy antics of his wife and others from his household, interacting enough with the “wrong” Dromio to make him batty.

The remaining actors in Simon’s outstanding cast essay 13 characters mystified, stymied and run in circles by the Antipholus and the Dromio each thinks he or she knows.

Scene from “The Comedy of Errors”

Hope Andrejack’s portrayal of Antipholus of Ephesus’ enraged (and should we say deranged?) wife Adriana is masterful. Obsessively consulting her Magic 8 ball for guidance. Andrejack is a force of nature, her Adriana working herself into a comic frenzy. Think Roseanne Barr on steroids, or Zuul, the possessed Sigourney Weaver in “Ghostbusters.”

While Adriana’s sister Luciana isn’t quite as demented, Kayla Quiroz pleasingly plays out the plot wrinkle wherein Luciana tells brother-in-law Antipholus she’s in love with him. But since it’s the “wrong” Antipholus (Lugo), he’s puzzled, yet enjoys and even welcomes the romantic attention.

Annelise Herman steals (actually earns) her Act Two scenes as the magnetic young Courtesan who gets involved with Antipholus – in this case, she’s a high-priced ’70s streetwalker.

Mary Marie Hill also steals the spotlight in a star comedic turn as Angela, the hip, sassy gold merchant who takes no guff from anyone. Meg Evans and Sittichai Chaiyahat deliver jolts of comedic energy in their supporting roles (two apiece)

One of the show’s high points is an exorcism performed by two motorcycle-riding hippies (Ungar and Spann) on Antipholus of Ephesus. It’s a hilarious, inspired scene of pure comedic lunacy.

Allison Eversoll’s choreography captures the joy inherent in dancing to ’70s music (and original music composed by Mike Hooker), all perfectly expressed by the cast. In fact, Simon’s cast has physical agility to spare, and it proves to be the engine driving New Swan’s staging. The fights between the Antipholi and Dromios, as choreographed by Michael Polak, mimic the movements of kung fu artists but also cleverly include dance moves seen on the disco floor.

As you’d expect and hope for, and as New Swan’s staging more than lives up to, the look, ambiance, costumes and lighting are bright, colorful and airy. Katie Wilson’s costumes fully realize the happiest, most garish aspects of ’70s fashion – for starters, bell bottoms, leather coats, ostentatious jewelry and tons of glitter.

Among the most eye-catching elements of Efren Delgadillo Jr.’s scenic design, and a pleasing nod to period psychedelia, are the multiple rows of squares whose colors continuously change. Karyn D. Lawrence’s lighting and Meghan Roche’s sound are the cappers, applying a bright ’70s gloss to the proceedings.

You won’t find a frothier, higher energy show than this merry, wild farce – so treat yourself and wrap up your summer with a show that’s pure fun from start to finish.

New Swan Shakespeare Festival, Gateway Commons/Gateway Plaza, 4004 Mesa Road, Irvine (University of California, Irvine). Running in repertory with “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” on Aug. 28, 30 and 31 and Sept. 1 and 3. Running time (with intermission): 2 hours. Tickets: $25-$80. Ticket purchase/information: 949-854-4646, newswanshakespeare.com


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