|Kevin Rich (L) and Jordan Coughtry appear in The Comedy of Errors|
Most productions use four actors to fill those roles, employing costumes, wigs, makeup, fake noses, what have you, to make the Antipholi and the Dromii resemble each other. In 2006, when director Chuck Ney helmed Comedy for the ISF, he used a single actor to play both separated-at-birth masters and a single actor to play both separated-at-birth servants. As I said in my review at the time, "The biggest challenge...is for the actors playing Antipholus and Dromio, who have to race on and off stage and remember to change their headgear and accessories as well as their personae every time they re-enter. The Comedy of Errors is already a fast-paced farce, but singling Antipholus and Dromio turns it into a foot race."
The current Illinois Shakespeare Festival production, under the direction of Michael Cotey, goes for a middle ground. In this production, opening July 12, Cody Proctor and Jordan Coughtry appear as Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse, respectively, while Kevin Rich stands alone, playing both Dromios. Yes, that's right. The last time we saw Comedy of Errors here, there were two actors covering the two sets of twins, the norm is four, and this time, there are three, just to mix things up.
Rich, who is also the Artistic Director of the Festival, is skilled and confident switching hats between Dromio 1 and Dromio 2, mining the comedy quite nicely, and actually building the laughs based on the fact that he is just one while his characters are two. Letting us in on the trick and acknowledging the absurdity makes the material even funnier.
Over in Antipholus territory, Coughtry and Proctor navigate their individual twins just fine. The only problem is that the actors don't really look that much alike. Comedy of Errors already requires audience members to not just step over the threshold of disbelief, but take a flying leap, what with all the coincidences at every turn. For the mistaken identity premise to fly, it would be nice if there were headgear or at least hairdos to help out the actors, so that the characters don't seem quite so silly when they mix up who's who.
Based on Fred M. Duer's bright Kismet scenic design and Juja Rivera Ramirez's slinky Thief of Bagdad costumes, this Comedy of Errors seems to be going for an Old Hollywood take on an Arab setting. Douglas Fairbanks comes to mind as a model for Coughtry's Antipholus, while I kept thinking of Miriam Hopkins when I looked at Nisi Sturgis's charming Luciana. Sturgis gives Luciana a more specific personality than the character usually gets, which serves to enliven her part of the plot. I also enjoyed the inclusion of vendors (Kelsey Bunner, Martin Hanna, Michele Stine and Arif Yampolsky, each manning a wagon) set around the edges of the action to provide sound effects and double takes.
Coming in at just two hours, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival Comedy of Errors is fast on its feet and a definite audience-pleaser.
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
By William Shakespeare
Illinois Shakespeare Festival
The Theatre at Ewing
Director: Michael Cotey
Costume Designer: Juja Rivera Ramirez
Scenic Designer: Fred M. Duer
Lighting Designer: Sarah EC Maines
Sound Designer: Shannon O'Neill
Stage Manager: Sarah G. Chanis
Vocal Coach: Krista Scott
Cast: David Hathway, Carlos Kmet, Kelsey Bunner, Martin Hanna, Michele Stine, Arif Yampolsky, Preston "Wigasi" Brant, Eva Balistrieri, Cydney D. Moody, Amanda Catania, Cody Proctor, Thomas Anthiny Quinn, Kraig Kelsey, David Fisch, Lindsay Smiling, Joe Faifer, Allison Sokolowski, Jordan Coughtry, Kevin Rich, Andrew Voss, Nisi Sturgis and Wendy Robie.
Running time: 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Remaining performances: July 12, 16, 20, 23, 26, 28 and 31; August 4, 6 and 8.
For ticket information, click here.
Please note that the performance of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival production of The Comedy of Errors which I attended was a preview, which the Festival treats as a final dress rehearsal. Over the years, I have at times written about productions based on dress rehearsals or preview performances if there was some reason I was unable to attend the official opening night. As with any production, my remarks reflect the specific performance I saw, which in this case was a preview.