Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's review of Every Brilliant Thing
That said, the production now on tap from Ten Thousand Things Theater Company might just hold a record for hustle as it whizzes past our eyes at a delightfully breakneck pace. While the whole shebang comes and goes in just ninety minutes, each of those minutes is chock full of fun, a souffle whipped out of an ingeniously constructed (albeit preposterous) plot brimming with witty dialogue, a gallery of sublime comic performances, and exquisite direction by Marcela Lorca.
A caveat: those looking for depth that explores the human heart or sheds light on a troubled society should seek out a different play. The Comedy of Errors is strictly a lark, but in the right hands, this lark soars like an eagleand Ten Thousand Things is that high-flying bird. Lorca maintains pitch-perfect timing, moving her players quickly from scene to scene with minimal rearrangement of boxes and stanchions to indicate a change of locale barely impeding the play's forward motion. Lorca has cast most of the characters with female actors, and all of them play multiple roles.
As the play opens, Egeon, a merchant from ancient Syracuse, finds himself in legal straights in the city of Ephesus. Attempting to win sympathy, he tells the tale of his twin sons, both named Antipholus, and their two attendants, also twins and both named Dromio. When they were still boys, the family was separated during a storm at sea. One paired Antipholus and Dromio, along with Egeon's wife, drifted off, never to be seen again, while the other Antipholus and Dromio found safe harbor with Egeon. Now an adult, Antipholus of Syracuse has taken off, his Dromio at his heel, in search of his long lost brother. Bereft, Egeon has been searching far and wide for his son, which explains how he landed in Ephesus.
This being farce in its most extreme, it turns out that the Antipholus and Dromio lost at sea so long ago ended up in Ephesus where each has taken a wife, and that Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse (those for whom Egeon is searching) have themselves just arrived at Ephesus. There is scant, if any, cause given for two sets of twin boys to each have the same name, but as long as we swallow that morsel, and while we're at it, suspend our incredulity that out of all the city states in the Aegean Sea, the lot of them all landed in Ephesus, we are in for a terrifically jolly ride. Why swallow such a morsel and baldly suspend disbelief? The enterprise is written by Shakespeare with such sincerity and good will, and the work delivered with such good-humor and affection by Ten Thousand Things' cast and crew, we never have cause to consider doing otherwise.
Two newcomers to Ten Thousand Things take on the roles of the twins: Nubia Monks as the Antipholus twins (one from Syracuse, one from Ephesus); and Danielle Troiano as the respective right-hand men, the twins Dromio. These four characters are at the heart of the play's madcap mix-ups, and it is crucial to portray them as being clueless to the reason their lives have suddenly skidded out of control. Both Monks and Troiano are marvelous, the two actors creating four different characters between them, each with their own personality. The production reverses the rules of Shakespeare's day, having these male characters played by female actors rather than female characters played by men, and the reversal somehow brings the production an additional burst of light. Because so much of the plot depends on making sure that the two brothers are never in the same place at the same time, playing both roles is relatively safedistinguishing who is who by adding or removing a cap and with droll shifts in dialecttill the final scene, which you simply have to see to appreciate how marvelous farce can be.
Katie Bradley plays an officer and jailer, but is most visible as Adriana, the put-upon wife of Antipholus of Ephesus. She is strong willed, feisty, and great with a slow-burn, a solid match for the men who perplex her. Cristina Florencia Castro, as Adriana's sister Luciana, is delightful, making a great show of fending off a gentleman's advances even as she is obviously stimulated by his attention. Sally Wingert is winning, as always, in several comical roles, striking a hilarious pose as a menacing merchant and raising Cain as a soft-spoken (usually) Abbess.
The sixth cast member is the sole male on board, Will Sturdivant, who is fine as Egeon and couple of others, but takes the cake in drag as a hyper-sexualized courtesan who gets drawn into the brotherly mix-up. His depiction is not what Shakespeare would have imagined, but most definitely fits into the tone and texture of this production.
With no stage lighting and virtually no set design (though the wooden crates and stanchions Safa Sarvestani has devised are inventively used), sound is always an important part of Ten Thousand Things productions. Sound and music director Peter Vitale serves up an array of aural relishes, sometimes setting a background mood, other times to fill the following spoken lines and serve as cues for whatever comes next. Sonya Berlovitz's costume designs typically tend toward the folkloric. Here she mixes those motifs with nods to contemporary streetwear, creating a whimsical effect that places the play in that broad time span between very long ago and last night.
Given the speed with which the play is presented, I wondered what big sections were lopped off, and referred back to the original script. I found that very little has been cut. One significant character, Lucethe maid to Adriana and Lucianais omitted, as are scenes that feature her, though she is still mentioned and, as an unseen character, plays a part in the imbroglios wrought by mistaken identities. Jo Holcombe serves as dramaturg to this production, and no doubt played a hand, along with director Lorca, in making those changes without leaving any gaps in the plotline.
Ten Thousand Things famously tours its productions to places where people rarely see live theater, such as prisons, adult basic education centers, halfway houses, and homeless shelters. That's why their trademark is to perform with minimal sets and with all the lights on. However, due to continuing worries about COVID-19, this production will not tour. Instead, it is being filmed, and the film will be made available to the residents and patrons of those programs. I suspect a filmed version will be a pale substitute for being in the presence of live actors, but it is what the times allow.
Those who can make the trip to Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, where The Comedy of Errors has taken up residence, will be well rewarded for the effort. This production does not have eye-catching scenery or gut-churning stage effects. None are needed. What it offers is a celebration of comedy, affirming the joy of laughter triggered by foibles and flaws that are part of our human naturewith an assist from Shakespeare's lunatic setup. It displays the amazing talents of a half dozen Twin Cities actors, the genius that a sound and music director music can bring to a production, and faith in the power of well-crafted storytelling to lift us out of our daily routines and into a plane of great gladness.
The Comedy of Errors runs through November 21, 2021, at Plymouth Congregational Church - Guild Hall, 1900 Nicolette Avenue S., Minneapolis MN. Tickets: "name your price" for all tickets, suggested price $35.00. For tickets and information, call 612-203-9502 or visit www.tenthousandthings.org.
Playwright: William Shakespeare; Director: Marcela Lorca; Set and Props Design: Safa Sarvestani; Music Director: Sanford Moore; Sound Design and Music: Peter Vitale Costumes: Sonya Berlovitz; Dramaturgy: Jo Holcomb; Stage Manager: Tree O'Halloran; Production Manager: Nancy Waldoch; Assistant Director: Michelle O'Neill; Assistant Stage Manager: Z Makila.
Cast: Katie Bradley (Officer/Jailer, Adriana, ensemble), Cristina Florencia Castro (Duke, Luciana, Officer, ensemble), Nubia Monks (Antipholus of Syracuse, Antipholus of Ephesus, ensemble), Will Sturdivant (Egeon, Angelo, Courtesan, ensemble), Danielle Troiano (Dromio of Syracuse, Dromio of Ephesus, ensemble), Sally Wingert (Emilia/Abbess, 1st Merchant, 2nd Merchant, Pinch, ensemble), Meredith Casey (swing).