Jonathan C. Kaplan and John Skelley
in The Comedy of Errors
(© Michal Daniel)
Jonathan C. Kaplan and John Skelley
in The Comedy of Errors
(© Michal Daniel)
One of the most cogent reasons for attending productions by The Acting Company is to see what new performers are emerging from the 39-year-old institution. Right now, the main attraction in the company's entertaining, if unevenly acted, 90-minute production of William Shakespeare's farcical The Comedy of Errors, being co-presented by the Guthrie Theatre at Pace University's Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, is an energetic fellow named John Skelley.

As Dromio of Syracuse, Skelley -- who has got a rubber-face and pliable physique of the sort that benefits any comic actor -- rushes around to great effect, most notably in a speech where he amusingly apes a handful of European accents. Moreover, at the performance I caught, the accomplished Skelly was actually doing amazing double duty as both Dromios (although Stephen Pilkington, who usually plays Dromio of Ephesus, did appear for the final few moments -- despite a terrible case of laryngitis -- to speak a few lines.)

The show begins as Antipholus of Syracuse (Jonathan C. Kaplan) arrives in Ephesus accompanied by servant Dromio, without realizing his long-lost twin, also dubbed Antipholus (Jason McDowell-Green), resides there with his own Dromio as well as harridan wife Adriana (Whitney Hudson) and her innocently-knowing unwed sister Luciana (Elizabeth Stahlmann).

Thus, of course, begins a farrago of mistaken-identity ventures that confuses all of the unaware in-laws and retainers, as well as local merchant Angelo (Sid Solomon). Including exoneration for the twins' dad Aegon (Ray Chapman) and reconciliation with lost wife Emilia (Kaliswa Brewster), now an abbess, nothing is resolved until numerous beatings, arrests, marital spats, a misinterpreted marriage proposal and who-know-what-all ensues on Neil Patel's economical set, which consists entirely of three different-colored parallel curtains whipped back and forth, one piece of rolling scaffolding and a back-drop-with-door eventually meant to represent a convent.

Director Ian Belknap has dreamed up several audience-pleasing notions, such as a running gag that has the Dromios repeatedly tripping over themselves, especially whenever they encounter a stage-right ramp. There are also the sound effects Fitz Patton supplies every time the Dromios are bopped on the head or elsewhere on their bodies. A late-in-show chase is good for some tickling of ribs, and his decision to have the Dromios remind audiences of Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp in their steely temerity pays off.

Belknap's use of the rolling scaffold to stage the Syracuse Antipholus' courtship of Luciana as a balcony scene -- clearly meant to echo the beloved Romeo and Juliet passage -- is his most impressive inspiration, and the punk outfit costume designer Candace Donnelly plunks on her enhances the cute send-up.

It would be a pleasure to report that the rest of the cast is up to Skelley's level. Unfortunately, only the good-looking Solomon, who slips hither and yon looking like a walking parenthesis, exhibits eye-catching flair, while Kaplan and McDowell-Green show virile promise. The work of the rest of the ensemble, however, suggests that a bit more training wouldn't be amiss.