Review: The Comedy of Errors in Shakespearean Spanglish

The Public Theater’s Mobile Unit is touring this musical adaptation across New York City.

Gían Pérez (center) plays Dromio in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, adapted and directed by Rebecca Martínez, for the Public Theater’s Mobile Unit.
(© Peter Cooper)

A story about twins separated at birth (one nice, one mean) sounds like the central plot thread of a telenovela, which is perhaps what inspired the flavor of director Rebecca Martínez and composer Julián Mesri’s new adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, now playing in venues across New York City with the Public Theater’s Mobile Unit. Simultaneously heartfelt and irreverent, it unpacks one of Shakespeare’s most ludicrous comedies with joyous music, big performances, and more than a few cherished Latin American tropes.

The play opens with Egeon (Varín Ayala) pleading before the Duchess of Ephesus, Solina (here pronounced like the martyred Tejano singer and regally embodied by Desireé Rodriguez). He is from Syracuse and has come in search of his son, Antipholus (Joel Perez), and his servant Dromio (Gían Pérez). They traveled from Syracuse to Ephesus to find their long-lost twin brothers — but the laws of Ephesus forbid Syracusans entry on pain of death or ransom. After hearing Egeon’s story, Solina gives him exactly one day to come up with the money.

Meanwhile, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse get into all kinds of mischief as they are confused for their Ephesian counterparts (who are, ridiculously, also called “Antipholus” and “Dromio” and are also played by Perez and Pérez). Matters get particularly hairy when they encounter the Ephesian Antipholus’s wife, Adriana (Danaya Esperanza), and her sister Luciana (Keren Lugo), for whom the Syracusan Antipholus has the hots. Desperate exchanges in English and Spanish fly across the stage as this double case of mistaken identity drives the plot to dizzy heights of lunacy.

Confused? The Troubador (played by Sara Ornelas with winking omniscience) has you covered. She and her guitar arrive center stage at key intervals to deliver musical plot summaries (music by Mesri, lyrics by Mesri and Martínez). Mesri has also written songs for the characters to sing (Adriana and Luciana’s counterpoint duet, “Carne Fria,” is particularly rousing), turning this 429-year-old play into a zippy 90-minute musical in Shakespearean Spanglish.

The company of The Comedy of Errors, adapted and directed by Rebecca Martínez, for the Public Theater’s Mobile Unit.
(© Peter Cooper)

Martínez directs the production, which is not as lucid as the last time the Mobile Unit did this play in 2015. The scene with Doctor Pinch (Ayala doing his best Walter Mercado impersonation) goes off the rails as we wonder what kinky business has everyone singing “Amor” as they tie-up Antipholus and Dromio center stage.

But the simple and effective costumes (Lux Haac) keep the Syracusans and Ephesians distinct while placing them all in a Latin-American fantasia. Emmie Finckel’s scenery (plastic crates on a large square carpet) works well for traveling Shakespeare in the round. And Charles Coes delivers impressive sound balance on the fly.

As is always the case with these productions, the performances make the show: Gían Pérez is the most naturally gifted comedian in the cast, tumbling across the stage and playing a guiro (made from an empty Café Bustelo can) with great relish. Esperanza captures Adriana’s justified rage in every stir of espresso. And Joel Perez easily switches between the adorably naïve Antipholus of Syracuse and his sneering jerk of a brother from Ephesus.

The price is right: Completely free and open to the public, the production is touring across New York City before it settles into the Public’s home on Lafayette Street starting May 25. I saw it at the LGBT Center on 13th Street, where it performed in front of a full house. You can check to see if it’s coming to your neighborhood here.

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The Comedy of Errors

Closed: November 22, 2015