The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s textbook on the consummate comedy. With deep roots in Italian commedia dell’arte, the play often feels to me like the first farce. It’s a perfect precursor to the screwball comedies of the Great Depression, and it lays the groundwork for the pratfalls of Buster Keaton, the mistaken identity of The Big Lebowski and the pure, unbridled insanity of Noises Off.
One of the joys of farce is that it allows us to laugh at how painful life can be and gives us permission to enjoy witnessing and reveling in the characters’ miseries. But there is more meat on the bone, so to speak. Mark Rylance says, “You will never get to the bottom of Shakespeare’s sense of wit and humor.” I heartily agree. Yes, The Comedy of Errors has 400-year-old jokes that require no translation (“He’s spherical, like a globe. I could find out countries in him.”)—yet it also walks a delicate line between tragedy and comedy.
Our vagabond father has not seen his wife or estranged twin daughter for more than twenty years. Our Dromias receive far more beatings than their ears or backsides deserve. Adriano mistakes the action of an identical twin for infidelity. Antiphola is subdued, humiliated and committed (briefly) to an asylum. And through it all, laughter leads the way. The tragic underpinnings of Comedy support and heighten the comic stakes.
Our production has a plethora of gender swapping, a wandering minstrel and more 1930s Parisian archetypes than you can shake a baguette at. But at its heart, it is six characters in search of each other. And if they can survive the “Worst. Day. Ever,” what a sweet reunion it will be. There is indeed great depth to this humor.
-Geoffrey Kent, Director
Solinus, Duke of Ephesus, sentences Egeon, a Syracusan merchant, to death as a result of the law that forbids traffic between Syracuse and Ephesus. At the Duke’s request, Egeon shares his story: Years ago, he lost his twin daughter, twin servant and wife in a shipwreck. After 18 years, Egeon’s daughter, Antiphola of Syracuse, left with her servant girl, Dromia of Syracuse, to find their lost siblings. Egeon is now also in search of his scattered family. The sympathetic Duke gives Egeon one day to gather the funds to save his life. Little does he know, his Syracusan daughter and servant, along with their lost twins, are all in Ephesus.
A wild day of misunderstanding begins when the newly arrived Antiphola of Syracuse sends Dromia of Syracuse off with money to their Inn. Dromia of Ephesus, the servant to the local Antiphola of Ephesus, mistakes the Syracusan Antiphola for her own mistress, and entreats her to lunch with Adriano (husband of Antiphola of Ephesus, and Adriano’s brother, Luciano). Adriano grows frustrated that his “Antiphola” will not dine at home, and he fears that she is cheating. Adriano knows that his wife has commissioned a gold chain for him, but he fears the chain has gone to another man. Adriano and Luciano find Antiphola and Dromia of Syracuse in the market and demand they come to lunch. Although confused, the Syracusans agree. Pandemonium escalates about the gold chain, the money and the mistaken identities.
The chaos climaxes when an officer comes to arrest Antiphola of Ephesus and she also receives a humiliating exorcism from the schoolmaster Pinch. Antiphola and Dromia of Syracuse flee to a priory, guarded by the Abbess, who intervenes to bring peace to the madness, understanding to the confusion, and the long-lost sisters face to face.
-Bianca Gordon, Dramaturg
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Comedy of Errors reimagines the central sets of twins as women instead of men. In shifting Antipholus to Antiphola and Dromio to Dromia, how does the comedy change with women in the roles? How might this disrupt sexist narratives around women and comedy, and what is gained with this change?
Historically, a central issue that has barred women from more prominent roles in comedy is that comedy demands that a performer be aggressive, take up attention and wield power physically or verbally. These qualities are in direct opposition to conventional expectations of femininity. If a woman is expected to be unobtrusive, pleasant and pretty, it is a dangerous departure for her to demand attention, be physically boisterous or use wit to expose absurdity. In Women and Comedy: History, Theory, Practice, Regina Barreca explains that being funny necessitates that one “reveals, exposes, and exaggerates” behaviors again in conflict with traditional ideas of femininity.
The story of funny women in America can be traced along the history of the entertainment industry in America, from vaudeville to the Golden Era of Television to the online opportunities comediennes have today. During the Golden Age of Television in the 1950s, Lucille Ball became so beloved that urban legend speculates that her face has been seen by more audiences worldwide than anyone who has ever lived. Ball began acting as a teenager and started modeling in 1933. After a string of musicals and modeling gigs, Ball distinguished herself from other leggy showgirls with her enthusiasm for physical comedy. She told producers that she was willing to do a scene with a crocodile or fall in a pool, and she said she “didn’t mind getting messed up.” Later in her career, Ball was applauded for her skills on her show “I Love Lucy.” A 1952 TIME Magazine article praised Ball’s “cheerful rowdiness.” Ball is notable not only for her larger-than-life facial expressions, over-the-top gags and excellent sense of timing but also for her beauty and her physique. These attributes meant Ball could be funny and feminine at the same time.
Contemporary comics such as Amy Schumer, who in 2015 won two Emmy Awards, are cracking up audiences by exposing entrenched expectations of femininity. One such Emmy Award-winning sketch features Schumer getting serenaded by a boy band. The boys sing to her that she’s beautiful without makeup, but as she removes it, the boys change their tune and begin to sing about their regret at seeing her clean face. This send-up not only demonstrates Schumer’s comedic ability but also exposes the larger conflicting and constraining messages society sends to women.
Humor requires courage and risk, and comedy is power. Just as this summer’s Ghostbusters reboot features female comedians Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones in the lead scientist roles, our Comedy of Errors explores Shakespeare’s narrative with women as the instigators of exaggerated physical and verbal farce. Barreca defines humor as “life with its pants down—and sometimes women are doing the pulling, and getting the last laugh.” When we watch the Antipholas and Dromias chase and be chased around the winding streets of a Paris-inspired Ephesus, we indeed hope to foster women’s opportunities to get the last laugh.
- Bianca Gordon, Dramaturg
Mime, Minion, Headsman Keeper, Parisian
Antiphola of Ephesus
Dromia of Ephesus
Christopher Joel Onken*
Assistant Stage Manager
Jonathan D. Allsup
Stacy R. Norwood*
Meghan Anderson Doyle
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