'Comedy' rendered with no errors
By LARRY PARNASS, Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 1999 -- (AMHERST) - As comedies go, these jokes take a lot of explaining. The synopsis in the Hampshire Shakespeare Company's program for "The Comedy of Errors" runs longer than this review.
Well, the program is rich reading - and best taken as evidence of this talented company's irrepressible enthusiasm for the stories it presents.
The players under Sarah Wilson's direction offered a sterling rendition Thursday night of this funny saga of two sets of twins cast loose from what could have been humdrum lives by a shipwreck.
As fans of this playwright know, there can be no such thing as an ordinary life. For two hours (yes, a short Shakespeare!), we in the audience attend a complicated search for missing kin, turned upside down by the confusion of two sets of characters who look alike.
Those players - Rene Pfister and Rob Olmstead as Antipholus, and Rhydwyn Davies and Art Goyette as Dromio - are all winning as the charismatic quartet, from the hapless servant Dromios to their two imperfect masters. Their fine acting - and sure touch, amid this confusing tale - creates a frame on which another dozen actors set well-honed performances.
It is wonderful, light fun, an illusive summer mood the Hampshire Shakespeare has shown again and again it can capture. Even with a brief rain delay last night, in the garden behind the Lord Jeffery Inn, spirits were high. Taking a seat in front of this company is like happening in on an interesting party, where no one notices you're a stranger.
It seems that way in part because these lines sit so naturally, so deeply with the actors that one really wants to forget this is make believe.
It may not be fair to judge them as pairs, but the two actors in each of the two mirrored roles are so well matched it is hard not to speak of them as one. Naturally, we must work to accept that the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios look exactly alike to their acquaintances. By casting and costume - and able acting - the connections are made.
The bumbling, hapless Dromios - Davies and Goyette - do seem cut from the same old cloth. The actors make sure we get that sense, by going nearly over the top with physical comedy and a wide-eyed goofiness. They play wonderfully with their seeming stupidity, asking rhetorical questions, eyes searching the heavens.
Of course, those are the same questions we're asking. That makes us kin and makes them geniuses.
Since these plays are performed mostly as written, we can't credit their perfect shapes to adaptations over the centuries. They were jewels then and now.
The language is both ancient and immediate. "How has thou lost thy breath?" a woman asks one of the Dromios. "By running fast," he says.
As Adriana, the wife who welcomes the wrong husband home, Jessica Patton is both forceful and fun. She's missed her man and can't understand his coolness. "Thou art an elm, my husband, and I a vine," she coos.
She is teamed with Amy Wilkinson as her sister, a Shakespeare veteran performing with this company for the first time. They are classic bookends of character. Each is destined to land a mate, when - as is always the case - the confusion clears in the final moments.
As the tempest-tossed father Aegeon, Walter Carroll's fine voice and phrasing set a strong start to the on-stage searching. Julliette Burbank was a captivating courtesan. And musician Ijod Schroeder again wove a subtle seam of music into the night.
The production moves tonight to the Pines Theater at Look Park, where tickets remain available. Those who wait for next Tuesday's performance in Amherst may want to come hungry. Staff of the Lord Jeffery Inn fire up their outdoor grill and offer a reasonably priced light menu that tastes as much of summer as the show to come.