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The Comedy of Errors

Edward Hall's audaciously amshackle, all-male production of Shakespeare's classic comedy has plenty of laughs.

David Newman in The Comedy of Errors
(Photo courtesy of the company)
Don't try too hard to keep track of the pop culture references in Edward Hall's audaciously ramshackle all-male production of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, now playing BAM's Harvey Theatre. Most likely, you'll lose track somewhere between The Three Stooges and Star Wars.

There's a lot of fun to be had in this freewheeling approach to the Bard's farcical look at what happens when two sets of twins, who've been separated since infancy find themselves in the same city, unbeknownst to one another, and at the same time, there's something that's exhausting about it too. And while there are laughs to be had even at the very end as all of the confusions are being erased, they are not nearly as hearty as when the show first started.

What may be most impressive about the production is that alongside the pratfalls and broad physical combat, the language is delivered with superb clarity, and often Shakespeare's linguistic playfulness can get as big a laugh as the actors' hijinks. Early on, the merry banter between Antipholus of Syracuse (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart), who's come to Ephesus looking for his long-lost brother, and his servant Dromio (Richard Frame), score almost as heartily with banter about baldness as they do when they're bopping one another because of the misunderstandings that arise because they've been mistaken for the Antipholus (Sam Swainbury) and Dromio (Jon Trenchard) of Ephesus.

The same can be said of the scene that transpires when the Antipholus who's come to town finds himself in his brother's house and smitten with Luciana (played with delightful wallflower awkwardness by David Newman), who thinks that it's her brother-in-law who's making love to her. Both Bruce-Lockhart and Newman deliver the tart dialogue with flair, and when it comes to the unexpected way in which the two truly bond -- they both are martial arts experts -- the scene has a delicious cap of visual and incongruous comedy.

But not all of director Hall's conceits for the production succeed. For instance, an over-extended gospel revival-like sequence for Pinch (Tony Bell), a conjurer whom Antipholus of Ephesus' wife Adriana (played with campy imperious flair by Robert Hands), summons because she thinks her husband's gone insane, strains theatergoers' patience.

Similarly, the dominatrix-like nun's attire that production designer Michael Pavelka has conceived for the abbess of the priory where Antipholus of Syracuse seeks refuge from his brother's increasingly frantic family and friends is one of many one-note visual jokes. Pavelka should be commended, however, for his scenic design which sets the play in a graffiti covered alleyway that's been outfitted with strings of colored lights as if for a street fair: it give the production a certain seedy quality which nicely underscores the menace of the city for foreigners.

All four actors deliver handily as the central pairs of twins, and there are several outstanding supporting turns, particularly from Kelsey Brookfield, who gives a sassy, yet gracefully understated, performance as a courtesan who finds herself embroiled in the confusion; Dominic Tighe, who gives a police officer a goofy sexy swagger and an accent that's a wonderfully wild combination of continental sounds, and John Dougall, who plays the Antipholi's father with sweetness and a certain gravitas.

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