As a whole, however, the 70-minute production doesn't fare as well. Although the translation, by Stanley Lombardo, is crisp and vibrant, it can't match Shakespeare's poetry or offer the dramatic structure of a work written directly for the stage. Even at the hands of Richmond--who imaginatively uses four large boxes to create Mount Olympus and a throne for Zeus--there's more narration than action. And at times the actors' voices are heavily weighed down with overstrained emotion.
Settings of both plays have been updated, with primarily ornamental results, rather than new interpretations. Comedy of Errors takes place in what is described as a "zany kind of cartoon 1920s Turkish world," and although the Greeks in The Iliad have become American soldiers in combat in Europe during World War II, it's not an easily transferable analogy. References to an ancient war--to Greeks and Trojans, Achilles and Agamemnon--don't seamlessly correspond to what American forces endured in Europe in the 1940s. It's like trying to grow a palm tree in the Yukon.
Caron and Butelli, the same pair who frolic through Comedy of Errors as the twins, are equally impressive as the feuding Achilles and Agamemnon. The rest of the ensemble--Alex Webb, William Kwapy, Lisa Carter, Mira Kingsley, Marci Adilman, and Judy Hu--stand out in a medley of roles in both shows.
Richmond and his resourceful set designers, David Coleman and Owen Collins, have turned a clunky performance space into, alternately, a brightly hued mystical fantasyland and a dark, foreboding purgatory. A doorway is decked out with strings of beads, and massive columns have been wrapped in vibrant purple and gold sheaths for Errors. The beads are gone for The Iliad, and the columns are wrapped with dismal green vines.
Lisa Martin Stuart's Comedy of Errors costumes, mostly a palette of soft pastels, are as festive as the carnival atmosphere that pervades the show, while Christianne Myers went in the opposite direction for The Iliad's combat fatigues. Producing artistic director Peter Meineck, the lighting designer for both productions, achieves his finest effect outlining The Iliad's shadowy figures.
Whatever effort went into planting this company, the results have been fertile. Let's hope the stage unions remain willing to endorse such adventures.