The Comedy of Errors (2004)

The Comedy of Errors (2004)

Jul 3-Aug 14, 2004

The Comedy of Errors (2004)

"We came into the world like brother and brother, and now let's go hand in hand, not one before another.”
Shakespeare’s purest comedy—with a twist. Set in jazzy, sexy, 1930s Paris, this hilarious production takes on the classic adventure of mistaken identities. Sultry singing, cabaret nightlife, puns and punchlines, this is "Comedy", inside out.
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Production Notes

Egeon, a merchant from Syracuse, arrested for illegally entering the town of Ephesus, tells Solinus, the Duke, the sad tale of the loss of his wife and one of his twin sons at sea. The Duke, moved by his story, grants him a day to raise ransom money. Unbeknownst to Egeon, both his sons (each named Antipholus) are in Syracuse, along with their twin servants, each named Dromio. Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus have long been established in the town, while Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse have just arrived, searching for Antipholus's long lost brother. Unaware of the others presence, myriad complications ensue. Antipholus of Syracuse sends his servant Dromio to an inn with their luggage and money. While he is gone, Dromio of Ephesus happens by and scolds Antipholus for not returning home for supper. Dromio denies any knowledge of being entrusted with money and is soundly beaten for his pains. Adriana, the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, and her sister Luciana, encounter Antipholus of Syracuse and, mistaking him for his brother, convince him to come "home" for dinner. Confused, and suspecting witchcraft, he agrees. Antipholus of Ephesus brings Balthasar, a merchant, and Angelo, a goldsmith, to his home for dinner and finds the door locked against him. Infuriated, he sends Angelo to fetch a gold chain he intended for his wife, resolves to give it to the Courtesan instead, and departs to see her. Inside the house, Antipholus of Syracuse quickly falls in love with Luciana, while Luce, the kitchen maid, claims Dromio of Syracuse as her betrothed. Frightened of the seeming magic and insanity of the city and its inhabitants, Antipholus sends Dromio to book immediate passage home to Syracuse. Angelo runs into Antipholus of Syracuse on the street and gives him the gold chain. Antipholus of Ephesus, returning from the Courtesan's house, encounters Angelo, who demands payment for the chain. Antipholus denies having ever received the chain, and Angelo has him arrested. Antipholus sends Dromio of Syracuse to Adriana for bail money. Adriana gives him the money, who then gives it to the wrong Antipholus. The Courtesan enters, and seeing the gold chain she has been promised, demands it of the bewildered Antipholus of Syracuse. He flees her, and she resolves to tell Adriana that her husband has gone insane. Adriana, Luciana and the Courtesan employ the highly suspect "Doctor" Pinch to cure Antipholus's insanity and Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus are bound and taken away. The Syracusans enter, frightening the women, who think the madmen have already escaped. The men take sanctuary in the nearby priory. Meanwhile the Duke arrives, bringing Egeon to execution. Adriana requests the Duke's help in forcing her husband (she thinks) out of the priory. Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus arrive, having escaped Dr. Pinch, and the Abbess and the Syracusans enter. Seeing the two sets of twins together, all is understood. Additionally, the Abbess and Egeon recognize each other as long lost spouses and the families are finally fully reunited.


Director Stephanie Shine sees numerous dramatic and theatrical possibilities in placing the action of The Comedy of Errors in an atmosphere evocative of a New Orleans/ French Creole seaport of the early 19th century. As Shine states, "The early 1800's gives us lots of pirates, whorehouses, new freedoms, bad feelings towards various governments like the Spanish-so it's a rich time to put the play in without forcing the text to accommodate us." Shine does not mean to treat the time period rigidly, but rather will create an atmosphere which, "will still be pertinent, and is romantic and removed enough from today," allowing the comic confusions of the plot to take center stage. Shine is hoping for a small multi-ethnic cast to people this Creole/Cajun world. She will utilize various doublings of roles, most particularly casting only one actor as each set of twins, a directorial choice infrequently made, but which creates a tour de force acting opportunity for two actors, while helping to accentuate the identity confusion at the center of the play. Curt Enderle's set design emphasizes the hot and sultry coastal location by presenting a town square which displays the color and sensuality of the French colonial influence. The set will also underline the undercurrent of violence in this play, displaying Egeon's imminent danger by showcasing heads on pikes and the slow construction of execution scaffolding throughout the course of the play. Enderle has incorporated a nautical sensibility to the buildings and created a "crossroads feel-lanes going off in each direction to more of the hot, sexy, anything-can-happen, mischievous port town." Jeannie Arnold's costumes also emphasize the color and romance of this removed period. Ranging from authentic early 19th century gowns, to an extravagant headpiece for the Abbess and flowing voodoo robes for Dr. Pinch, the costumes will support the playful and magical world where identities collide and families are reunited.


Scholars regard The Comedy of Errors, one of Shakespeare's first plays, as perhaps his lightest and most farcical of works. The complications and misunderstandings which ensue from the mistaken identities of not one, but two sets of twins, encourages general hilarity and broad, physical humor. Often overlooked however, are the darker tones in the play, which ultimately enrich, rather than diminish, the plays' comic stature. Shakespeare took two comedies by Roman playwright Plautus as his source material for The Comedy of Errors: The Menaechmi and Amphitruo. Present in neither of these source plays, however, was Shakespeare's framing device of the twins father, Egeon, facing execution. The somber tone set by Egeon's tale of suffering and woe, not resolved until the final scene where he is reunited with his family, adds an undercurrent of violence and a layer of sincere emotion that cannot be entirely dismissed during the raucous proceedings of the rest of the play. The character of Adriana also provides darker undertones within The Comedy of Errors. Frequently compared with Kate from The Taming of the Shrew, Adriana, as a comic, man-hating wife, can be too easily dismissed as a shrewish nightmare. As with Kate however, Shakespeare has created a deeper, more complex female character in Adriana, who has quite legitimate complaints and deeply felt emotion at her mistreatment by her husband. While accusing her of adultery and sending Dromio for a length of rope with which to beat her, Antipholus meanwhile carries on a relationship with the Courtesan. This adulterate double standard is strongly mourned by Adriana, and Shakespeare furnishes her with heartfelt and quite convincing arguments. According to George Walton Williams, "Adultery, even in this early play, is not a laughing matter." A serious concern central to the play is of loss of identity, the "comic horror" inherent in the concept of twins. Scholar Ruth Nevo points out, "If it were not so funny, Shakespeare's first comedy would read like a schizophrenic nightmare: identities are lost, split, engulfed, hallucinated, imploded. Apparently solid citizens (solid at least to themselves) suffer 'ontological uncertainty' in acute forms, wandering about unrecognized by all they encounter." The twins' concern with their slippery identities mirror our own individual struggles with self-definition, with the frightening task of establishing individuality in a homogenizing world. The comic form's origins in ritual and deeper functions in society have been well established by scholars. We can therefore embrace these serious underpinnings in The Comedy of Errors, rather than dismissing them as deviations from correct form. Perhaps it is these darker foundations that grant the play a higher status than that of an undeveloped early farce, unworthy of Shakespeare's later work. As scholar R.A. Foakes states, The Comedy of Errors, "shows a playwright already beginning to generate, out of clashes between suffering and joy, disorder and order, appearance and reality, the peculiar character and strength that is found in his mature work."


Geoffrey Kent

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