A special adaptation of Shakespeare’s rip-roaring farce, perfect for kids of all ages.
All admission ………………………………. $10
by Bernard Reed
There are a lot of things to like about Shakespeare, not least of which is the flexibility of his plays. The Arkansas Shakespeare Festival’s production of “The Comedy of Errors” has certainly taken advantage of this flexibility to come up with a loudly colorful and goofily anachronistic show.
“The Comedy of Errors” is one of Shakespeare’s first plays and has long been considered by scholars to lack academic depth — a quality that any tired English student might find very appealing. It tells the story of Antipholus of Syracuse and his slave, Dromeo, arriving in Ephesus, the former looking for his long lost brother; the brother turns out to be an identical twin, also named Antipholus, who is accompanied by his own servant, the identical twin of Dromeo. The presence of these two pairs of twins results in a cavalcade of humorous mishaps, replete with mistaken identities and a full serving of slapstick gags.
Which is one of the production’s strong points, at least for those who like slapstick: There’s a lot of theatrically cartoonish beating-up of Dromeo, the show’s punching bag, who flops about on stage as though he was made of rubber (as though they were made of rubber, that is). That’s another part of this show that’s executed very cleverly — rather than use separate actors for each twin, requiring greater suspension of disbelief from the audience, there’s only one actor for both Antipholuses and both Dromeos. The problem of the twins confronting each other in the final scene is craftily resolved in a gag that stays in line with the wackiness of the rest of the show.
And wacky it certainly is. The costumes, in bright colors, don’t adhere to any particular setting or period, and the cast is followed around by a pair of bouncing minstrels who act as a kind of vaudevillian chorus. One feature that might annoy some is the lack of any theme to the setting — Ephesus has been updated to a vaguely Southern small town in the early 20th century, but the characters seem to exist in some indefinable Shakespearean ether, conforming more to quirky caricatures than the demands of their setting. But Shakespeare is flexible, after all, and this is a play about the farcical committing of errors.
It’s an amusing bit of Shakespeare, to be sure, and if you want to expose your kids to the bard but don’t think that “Henry V,” the Festival’s other option, is quite the right entry point to his oeuvre, “The Comedy of Errors” will work just fine. It shows again June 26 at 7 p.m. and July 3 at 2 p.m.
Thank you for your steady support for AST over the past several years. I enjoyed seeing you at the shows this past season — and what a great festival it was. Comedy of Errors provided plenty of laughs, Dracula delivered the chills, and Henry V created the illusion of battle with little more than expert ac ting and a fog machine! All in all, the season was a great success, and as the temperatures rose early in Arkansas this summer, Reynolds provided a nice respite from the heat and humidity.
Clearly there are some big chances as we move forward with AST’s 2011 season. Matt Chiorini departed as producing artistic director but will stay on this season as creative director, returning for events that lead up to the season, then returning to run the festival next June. Therefore, know that the quality you have come to expect from AST is assured.
I have taken on the role as Executive Director of AST. Having been involved with AST from the beginning, I know the organization well and have a clear vision of the multitude of possibilities that await us. We feel that this new direction for AST is exactly what this festival needs — a clear focus on the creative elements coupled with a pointed concern for the managerial components. Together, Matt and I will work to increase the visibility of AST throughout the state and region.
Conway as a community is poised to become the center for arts and culture in Arkansas, and the success of AST is pivotal in making that a reality. Professional theater not only provides cultural enlightenment but economic stimulation, as well. Just as the American Shakespeare Center has made Staunton, Virginia synonymous with artistic excellence, AST can and will do the same for Conway. The excellence is already here — we just have to get the word out.
Thank you so much for all that you have done to make AST a success.