Ottawa, ON, Apr 12, 2010 — Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors is running at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa through April 24. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.
Artistic Director Peter Hinton's post H1N1 production of THE COMEDY OF ERRORS is, as usual, a visual feast, but this time loaded with slapstick comedy and cross-dressing. Mr. Hinton doesn't miss a single opportunity for anachronistic gags, from hand sanitizers to Via Rail, in this ribald tale of two sets of identical twins separated at birth.
Antipholus, (married to Adriana), and his servant Dromio live in Ephesus. His long-lost twin brother, also named Antipholus, arrives from Syracuse with his servant, also named Dromio, in tow. Of course the resulting confusion, accusations, beatings, madness and even thefts are happily resolved.
If you're unfamiliar with the play, I suggest reading at least a plot summary, as unfortunately in this production it's easy to lose track of what's happening and who's who. The problem is that the actors playing Antipholus of Ephesus, both Dromios and Luce on opening night played at such a high strident pitch and frenetic pace that their speech often became unintelligible. Not only did we feel shouted at, but also we began to fear for the actors' voices. Perhaps it was opening night jitters, but they seem to have confused energy and pace with volume.
However there's nothing strident about Eo Sharp's clean-lined and luminous set combined with Robert Thomson's terrific lighting. The V-shaped walls are metallic gray providing entrances upstage and down with clever concealed flaps and openings so the high-tech shiny black, lucite and white furniture can slide on and off. There's even an elevator effect. The only permanent decorations are a portrait of the queen and a wall clock.
The set changes are completed by Mr. Thomson's lighting, including subtle color, high-tech footlights and projections. Miss Sharp's contemporary costumes are fun, especially the Courtesan's shoes and Adriana's nightshirt. She's managed to make the two Dromios almost indistinguishable. Troy Slocum's subtle music and sound add a great deal to the goings on.
Clare Coulter, whose work I admired in BURIED CHILD, is a strong Abbess, as is Albert Millaire as Aegeon. Together they unravel the tangled plot. Paul Rainville makes a wonderfully peculiar Dr. Pinch and Stephen Lawson is a hoot as the Courtesan, without ever going over the top.
I liked Danette Mackay's take on Adriana as a spoiled rich girl. The character really comes alive in the teddy bear scene. As the two Dromios, Debra Kirshenbaum and Danielle Desormeaux do a wonderful job with the physical comedy and the mirror staging. They're quite touching in the final scene.
Marcel Jeanin is thoroughly believable as Antipholus of Syracuse and has a good sense of comedy and timing. I loved his absent-minded peanut throwing. One of the funniest moments is his couch scene with Luciana, Adriana's sister, excellently played by Leni Parker. Their physical comedy, even the very funny glasses bit, is organic and comes from the characters.
I assume Jean-Francois Gagnon assisted Director Hinton with all the terrific falling about. Mr. Hinton's staging is funny and very clever. Using Dromio as a battering ram, the TV news crew, Star Wars - I could go on and on. If he reins in the four frenetic actors, the production will be up to his usual high standard of both truth and creativity.
On a scale of one to five the NAC English Theatre/Centaur Theatre co-production of THE COMEDY OF ERRORS gets four and one fourths Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.