The Brandeis Theater Company performed William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” this past weekend.
The play follows two sets of identical twins separated shortly after birth on a wacky one-day adventure of mistaken identities. The very beginning of the play began with the Duke of Ephesus (Ben Gold ’13) speaking casually to members of the audience. Metatheatrically, he broke the fourth wall and explained the usual theater instructions: no flash photography, cell phone on silent and the like, all while playfully mocking the inherent anachronisms in his comments. This opening was a good way to start this type of comedy; the audience now had a heightened sense of awareness to the strange things that would probably follow such an opening. It also gave Gold a chance to improve and deepen the character of Duke Solinus.
Once the play actually started, the audience focused immediately on the impending execution of Aegeon (Chuck Schwager), an old man from Syracuse. While waiting to be killed, he begins to cry and explains the back-story for his execution and in essence the play. Aegeon used to be married to a beautiful woman named Aemilia. Together, they had two identical twin boys. The same night, in the same inn, another woman also had two identical twin boys. This woman could not raise them, however, so she sold them to Aegean as servants for his own boys.
On their journey home, their ship sank, and Aegeon and Aemilia each took charge of a boy from each set of twins. Aegeon and his wards were rescued by a ship from Syracuse and he assumed his other son and wife drowned that day.
This is a surprisingly tragic beginning to one of Shakespeare’s goofiest plays, so to keep the mood light and the audience interested during Aegeon’s long speech, there was a shadow puppet show. The shadows comically depicted the series of terrible events in Aegeon’s life that brought him to be executed on the day in question. The duke became so moved by his story that he gives Aegeon one day to find money for his bail.
This is when the play really starts. Very rarely in theater can one find a set of identical twins to play the two roles necessary in “Comedy of Errors,” and it is a coup to find two sets of identical twin boys who are all trained in the theater. Aidan and Dotan Horowitz, both ’12, played the two Antipholuses, and Jared Greenberg ’12 and his brother Zach Greenberg ’12 were their respective Dromios. Along with the twins, there was an interesting assortment of cast members; everyone from Elizabeth Terry who is a member of the acting faculty to Jonathan Von Mering, a high school junior.
Along with the diversity of the cast there were other interesting ambiguities. Both the time and the settings of the play were unclear. If this had been almost any other play it would have been distracting from the action, but given that the action of the play carries itself, the lack of clarity in time and place combined with the simplicity of the set was not distracting. The characters were dressed as anything from a mid-19th-century officers to a Middle Eastern belly dancer and a South Asian-style conjurer. The script remained true to the original language, but the physicality of the actors brought it into a very modern light. Seeing two characters fist bump amid iambic pentameter is quite a sight. It also helped to remind the audience in subtle ways that the happenings of the play are wacky and that the audience should suspend its collective disbelief.
Bill Barclay was the director, and it was clear from watching the play that he is a Shakespeare specialist. The use of physical humor among all four twins was well-choreographed and highly amusing. The Shakespearean jokes were depicted in both words and actions.
Although the play is male-dominated, both Leah Carnow ’12 and Nicole Carlson ’14 held their own. Carnow played an over-sexualized and highly romantic Luciana, who worked well as the foil for her, ironically, much younger-seeming older sister Adriana, played by Carlson.
The play is inherently chaotic, with misunderstandings, misinterpretations and mistaken identities, but the chaos was choreographed so beautifully that it was not only comprehensible as an audience member, but also highly enjoyable to watch. At times the sounds of characters screaming over each other was overwhelming, but it generally lent extra comedy to the scenes.
Finally, in the last few moments of the play, everything was clarified and each person was returned to his rightful place. The chaos that had reigned throughout the play until this point died down and gave way to a sweet reunion of brothers; the Greenbergs clasped hands and coyly smiled over their shoulders as the lights went down.