Eddie Shields as Dromio of Ephesus and Susan S. McGinnis as Dromio of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors, directed by David R. Gammons, at Actors' Shakespeare Project.
Eddie Shields as Dromio of Ephesus and Susan S. McGinnis as Dromio of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors, directed by David R. Gammons, at Actors' Shakespeare Project.
(© Stratton McCrady)

Actors' Shakespeare Project, the peripatetic theater troupe, has opened its 2014-15 season with The Comedy of Errors, performed in the large, rectangular box of an auditorium at Brighton High School. Perhaps the personae of the wandering clowns who play Shakespeare's characters are meant to mirror the real-life travels of this group of Boston-based performers, who have no home of their own.

David R. Gammons has staged Shakespeare's early comedy about a double set of lost-and-found twins within the framework of a carnival band on the road. The nine actors, as members of the fictitious company, must take on multiple roles in Shakespeare's play, whether they are suited to them or not. Richard Snee is one-half of the carnival's Siamese twins. He is joined by a rope to a vivacious young woman, Sarah Newhouse. Between them (and of necessity together), they play four roles, including Egeon, the hapless father of one pair of twins, and Adriana, the shrewish wife of Antipholus of Ephesus. Near the end of the performance, Newhouse also takes on the voice of the Duke of Ephesus, who is represented by a golden, cardboard crown held in her hand, a charming bit of nonsense.

The Comedy of Errors is about twin baby boys named Antipholus who are separated from their parents, Egeon and Emilia, in a shipwreck, and about a second pair of twins, the Dromios, who are destined to become servants of the Antipholus brothers. The play opens after the grown Antipholus of Syracuse, with his servant, Dromio sets out to search for the rest of the family. He lands in Ephesus where his brother lives, unknown to him also with a servant called Dromio. Confusion reigns when the Antipholus brothers are repeatedly mistaken for each other, as are their servants.

Rather than finding similarly featured actors for the roles of the twins, Gammons has gone for contrast, casting the stocky Omar Robinson as Antipholus of Epheus opposite the tall, lean Jesse Hinson as Antipholus of Syracuse. Their servants, the two Dromios, are male (Eddie Shields) and female (Susan S. McGinnis), forcing viewers to imagine any qualities of twinship while keeping track of which one they are watching. The Antipholus brothers, as well as the two Dromios, are mistaken for each other until the plot resolves itself in a happy ending.

The actors wear white face make-up, representing masks with extravagant features painted on. Their costumes, designed by Gail Astrid Buckley, comprise a motley assortment of bits and pieces, in keeping with the notion of a company down on its luck. The pickup props include toilet plungers as swords, a stuffed pheasant as the centerpiece of the midday dinner, and a long, steel, industrial chain coiled in a bucket for the golden chain that figures in the plot. Some of these misfires make for amusing sight gags, while others are not quite as successful. Gammons designed the bare-stage setting, strewn with the backstage detritus of every theater in the Western world, including mismatched chairs, assorted lamps, mops and pails, fading theatrical posters, and a rack of costumes against the brick back wall.

Shakespearean purists might be concerned at the interpolation of the play within a play, with contemporary lines added for the director who calls the shots in rehearsal through a megaphone. Additionally, the silent comic acting style, compounded by the performers delivering the lines at breakneck speed, sometimes obscures the language.

That said, audiences of all ages — from youngsters, who laugh heartily when Antipholus of Syracuse strips to his orange and black undies, to teenagers, who love the miming of an illicit activity — will enjoy the nonstop, knock-'em-down, pratfalls and joking.