ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After the tremendous success of last summer’s Shakespeare on the Plaza, Albuquerque and the Vortex Theatre have teamed up again to bring two of Shakespeare’s plays to theater lovers free of charge. This year, they are offering one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, “Macbeth,” and one of his zaniest comedies, “The Comedy of Errors.”
Shakespeare borrowed the plot of “The Comedy of Errors” from the Roman playwright Plautus, but as he often did when he took his plots from other writers, he made it entirely his own. Where Plautus crafted a comedy of mistaken identity around a pair of twins, Shakespeare doubles the confusion by adding another set of twins. The plot is utterly absurd and improbable – but that is part of what makes it so much fun.
Antipholus was separated from his twin brother at birth; he has a servant named Dromio who was also separated from his twin brother at birth. As it happens, both sets of twins share the same names. When Antipholus and Dromio arrive in Ephesus, the home of the other Antipholus and Dromio, the stage is set for a rapidly multiplying series of farcical misunderstandings.
Director Dennis Elkins has wisely chosen to accentuate the absurdity by transforming the stage into a sort of circus, with the two Dromios as the chief clowns. Roman comedy, and especially Plautus, deeply influenced the bands of traveling players that dominated popular culture from the time of the fall of the Roman Empire to the late medieval period, making a strong impression on the young playwright William Shakespeare.
Martin Andrews and Ed Chavez are fabulous as the clowns; with their painted faces and colorful attire, the two performers manically amble about the stage (sometimes on scooters), frequently engaging the audience directly. When Dromio of Syracuse (Andrews) said, “Marry, sir, by a rule as plain as the plain bald pate of Father Time himself,” he stroked the bald pate of a gentleman in the front row. The man seemed delighted by the attention, and the audience howled with laughter. Likewise, at one point Dromio of Ephesus (Chavez) plopped down in an empty chair in the front row, putting both arms around the delighted children at his side as he watched the events on stage or improvised dialogue with the kids until his next cue.
Such clowning was not restricted to the two chief clowns, however, but was extended to the entire cast. When John Wylie appears as the exorcist Dr. Pinch, for instance, he imitates the great comedian Groucho Marx. It was perfectly executed.
Costume designer Quinn Perry has done a great job evoking the festive mood of the circus, with a motley assemblage of colorful costumes and clownish makeup.
This is one of Shakespeare’s most madcap comedies, expertly done by a great cast and crew – and at no cost is surely not to be missed. All shows start at 7:30 p.m.
“The Comedy of Errors” closes July 1. For schedule, go to newmexicoshakespeare.org. All shows at Civic Plaza in Downtown Albuquerque.