By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
Watch out, Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs, there are two dudes named Antipholus who are being confused for one another in the South Beach area of Ephesus. Adding to this gnarly situation are two Dromios, each of whom resemble a certain surfer and legendary stoner named Spiccoli.
No, there’s no trouble with the immortal Bard’s words in The Comedy of Errors currently on the boards at the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane. It’s just that director Jon Greene and assistant director Torrey Hayward, both of The Radical Buffoons, a theatre company that specializes in the bold and the outlandish, have taken over the creative reins this year for the festival’s lone COVID-shortened season.
This time out, the fellows who created Balloonacy and RAP Unzel, have turned Shakespeare on his pointy head and spun the improbable tale of mistaken identity into a wildly imagined feast for the eyes replete with cool pastels and the unmistakable sunshine of the Eighties basking his characters.
Leading the cast are the two sets of twins, the Antipholus fellows, one from Ephesus (Michael Forest) and one from Syracuse (Mack Guillory) and their faithful manservants, each named Dromio from Ephsesus (Reid Williams) and Syracuse (Matthew Raetz) as well. Separated as youngsters in a storm at sea, they have grown up in separate locales unaware of their doppelgangers.
Both sets of players are similarly attired, but audience members can easily tell which is which. That is the conceit for the comedy and it makes sense not to question the confusion on stage, but more to just let it wash over oneself like the tide of a midnight Miami Beach swim. When the Dromios are confronted by their master’s twins, the results are delightful as neither is aware of the existence of the other and they suspect each Antipholus of going mad.
Pamela D. Roberts stepped in to play the role of Egeon, a woebegotten traveler whom the local duke (BC Brian Cooper) has selected for execution. (Veteran player Donald Lewis, Jr. is listed for the role in the program.) Roberts also handles two smaller roles of Luce and Pinch.
On the distaff side, Leyla Beydoun is a striking actress, who portrays the role of Adriana most remarkably. Fiery and passionate, she, the betrothed of the Ephesian Antipholus, mistakes his Syracusan lookalike and his servant double for the pair she knows. As the conceit of mistaken identity builds throughout the play, she becomes both furious and frazzled. Adriana is aided in her difficulties during this time of torment by her sister Luciana (Monica H. Harris), who, in turn, is the object of desire of the Syracusan Antipholus. This ridiculous spin on sibling rivalry and possibly misplaced affection is resolved only at play’s end.
Annie Gaia portrays a merchant with a penchant towards violence, but her role serves as a vehicle for advancing the comedy as does Philip Roderic Yiannopoulos as Angelo, a goldsmith. Emily C. Russell is a courtesan, whom Antipholus (of Ephesus) befriends and whose ring is used to secure a much-needed loan.
The delightful Tracey E. Collins portrays Aemilia, a member of an Ephesian convent, who withholds a secret that will eventually resolve the confusion and save Egeon in the end.
As an officer of the Duke’s court, Gavin Robinson rounds out the cast of players, with some resemblance to a funny figure evocative of a member of the “Police Academy” film franchise.
Greene and Hayward employ an often-used device from movies in which characters open a succession of doors and windows while narrowly missing discovering each other. This occurs in the second act just prior to the resolution of the work. While it is funny, it does go on a bit longer than what might have been advised. Nevertheless, for those looking for a reason to laugh, Greene and company provide a good deal of comic material, some predictable, some not.
Using inspiration from TV’s “Miami Vice” and other Eighties icons, co-costume designers Christopher S. Arthur and Hope Bennett do an outstanding job in outfitting the characters. Anthony Contello oversees the technical aspects of the production with Joan Long’s fantastic set used as the backdrop of Antipholus’ house on Ephesus, while the stage includes tables and chairs evoking a South Beach music club. Marty Sachs and Mike Harkins provide the superb lighting and sound designs, respectively. In particular, Harkins’ use of Miami Sound machine backings adds immeasurably to the overall enjoyment of the production.
UPDATE: Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, which was to have continued through August 7, was canceled due to concerns over the alarming spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus. Ticket holders are urged to donate their tickets back to the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival or use their tickets at the January remount to be directed by Torrey Hayward at the Lupin Theater located in the Dixon Annex at Tulane University. For more information, call 505-865-5105.