The BolderBoulder has already bounded by. Cottonwood tufts blanket the ground like allergy-nightmare snow. Thermometers regularly top out in the 90s and with University of Colorado’s students on break, there’s a bit more elbowroom all around the town. It’s early summer in beautiful Boulder, and that means it’s time for one of the nation’s most renowned and anticipated Shakespeare festivals, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF), to once again dazzle denizens of delightful theatre.
That’s right. It’s time to get your Bard on.
This year’s CSF features five plays, four by Shakespeare himself (The Comedy of Errors, Troilus and Cressida, Cymbeline, and Henry VI – Part 2) and one starring a fictionalized version of him (Equivocation).
While the argument will rage eternal as to whether Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies, tragicomedies or histories are his best work, it’s no secret that audiences generally respond most warmly to the comedies. It is therefore no surprise that the 2016 CSF opens with the classic and ever-popular farce, The Comedy of Errors.
So seminal are the shenanigans found in The Comedy of Errors that Joyce DeWitt, Suzanne Somers and John Ritter (may he rest in giggling peace) arguably owe their careers to it. For though The Comedy of Errors may have been nearly 400 years old when the sitcom Three’s Company first hit the small screen, its fingerprints are all over the misadventures of the Mr. Roper-dodging roommates Janet, Chrissy and Jack.
As is often the case with Shakespeare productions, the setting of The Comedy of Errors has been modernized and relocated. Director Geoffrey Kent’s iteration transforms Ephesus into Paris in the 1930s. Parisian stereotypes, including mimes, accordion players, can-can dancers, berets, copious amounts of wine and omnipresent cigarettes, set a properly comedic tone before the first scene has run its course.
Though it is obviously Paris, it is still Ephesus, too, and Ephesus remains at odds with rival city Syracuse. Anyone from Syracuse found in Ephesus must pay a hefty fine or face execution. The play opens with just such an occurrence when Egeon, a Syracusan merchant, is caught in Ephesus. In an attempt to gain some sympathy, Egeon (Howard Swain) tells his woeful tale to the Duke of Ephesus (Coleman Zeigen) and a rapt Ephesian/Parisian crowd.
Many years earlier, Egeon’s wife brought twin daughters into the world, both conveniently named Antiphola (Carolyn Holding and Kelsey Didion). At the very same time, another set of twin girls, both named Dromia (Emelie O’Hara and Lindsey Kyler), were born to a poverty-stricken woman, so Egeon purchased the Dromias to be slave/servants to the Antipholas. During a shipwreck soon thereafter, Egeon, along with one Antiphola and Dromia, was separated from his wife, who had with her the other Antiphola and Dromia.
When Egeon’s daughter turned 18, she took Dromia with her to search for her lost mother and sister. Left all alone, Egeon has been trying to reunite his family ever since, and that is what brings him to Ephesus where, coincidentally enough, one Antiphola and Dromia reside and the other Antiphola and Dromia have just arrived. Each Antiphola is mistaken for the other, as is each Dromia, leading to confusion, multiple instances of slave/servant abuse and barrels of laughs.
The Shakespeare-philes among you may have noticed that the genders of the two sets of twins have been switched from the original male to female for this version of The Comedy of Errors. This decision, regardless of its sociological, political or personal motivations (for example: ire at women earning $0.79 to every dollar a man earns for the same job or people getting their panties in a bunch about phrases like “getting your panties in a bunch”), gives Holding, Didion, O’Hara and Kyler the spotlight, and the four women shine brightly in it. The requirements of the roles emphasize Holding’s and Didion’s verbal dexterity and O’Hara’s and Kyler’s physical comedic chops, but all four excel in every dimension, and I look forward to seeing them in other CSF plays this year.
The supporting cast delivers uniformly solid performances. A few standouts are Denver-theater phenom Mare Trevathan (how I miss her work at The Bug Theatre) as a no-nonsense Abbess, Sean Scrutchins as a heavily German-accented physician and the 12-year-old Avi Levi confidently wearing some big boy pants as the goldsmith Angelo.
Playing in the singular Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre on the University of Colorado’s campus, The Comedy of Errors brilliantly kicks off the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the summer season.
On the Bill: The Comedy of Errors. Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre, University of Colorado, 303-492-8008. Through Aug. 7. Full CSF scedule at coloradoshakes.org.