Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre puts the play in the Bard’s plays with endless rambunctious energy and side-splitting physical humor — so much so, that you’ll feel as if no one could have more fun onstage with William Shakespeare’s comedies than this London-based troupe that performs at home in an authentic reproduction of the Bard’s 1599 playhouse. Returning to Santa Monica for the third year, the Globe’s incomparable actors once again turned the Broad Stage into a rollicking party for “The Comedy of Errors.”
“The Comedy of Errors” is one of the Bard’s — or, given the current vigorous debate about authorship, someone’s — earliest plays. William Shakespeare or not William Shakespeare? It hardly matters. These words have been entertaining for centuries, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre knows how to play with them like true poets.
The setup for the play is that Egeon, a Syracusan merchant, shows up in Ephesus in search of his wife and son, lost in a shipwreck 25 years earlier. His other son, an identical twin, has also been traveling in search of his mother and brother and winds up in the same place unbeknownst to Egeon. The separated twins also have servants that happen to be twins. In the end, the entire family is reunited — but only after many comical cases of mistaken identity.
Eight cast members play multiple roles and make no secret of the switches, lending opportunity for even more laughs than are scripted. Bill Buckhurst plays Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus. Fergal McElherron plays the twin Dromio brothers, servants to the separated Antipholuses. Buckhurst and McElherron smoothly transition between characters with changes in speech and personality so precise that the glasses for the Syracuse guys really aren’t even necessary.
In one scene, a door placed center stage divides the inside and outside of Antipholus of Ephesus’ house. Buckhurst and McElherron run back and forth playing the twins. Then the antics are kicked up a notch when someone starts revolving the door and all of the actors must run back and forth. There was a funny bit when Buckhurst, probably on purpose, forgets to take his glasses off when he switches to the Ephesus twin. That’s just one example of how the group doesn’t miss a single opportunity for laughs. The way they handle the final scene in the play when both sets of twins are revealed is hilarious — and I won’t give it away.
The actors are masters of slapstick, physical comedy, not unlike the Three Stooges or even cartoons. At one point when Dromio is being kneed in the groin by Antipholus because he failed to do something Antipholus had unknowingly told the other Dromio to do, McElherron bounces up in the air with each blow, like in a cartoon fight. Then he adds an extra bounce after Buckhurst has already stopped the punishment. In yet another scene, McElherron suffers blows to the leg and then, by some unbelievable feat of double-jointedness, moves off stage with his leg bent 90 degrees! The women characters don’t get quite as much opportunity in this area, but Laura Rodgers as Adriana takes a number of comically lascivious poses with Antipholus of Syracuse whom she mistakes for her husband.
Because Buckhurst and McElherron are onstage practically forever and because they are positively amazing in their dual roles, it’s easy to see why they steal the show. But everyone is outstanding: the aforementioned Rodgers as Adriana, Duncan Wisbey as Angelo/Duke, Cornelius Booth as Dr. Pinch/Egeon, Dana Gartland as Luciana, Sophie Scott as various merchants and Emma Pallant who suavely transitions from courtesan to abbess. Other cast members help with sound effects and contribute beautiful singing and music along with the principals (who play accordion, clarinet and drums), with a little help from composer and music director Alex Silverman.
To be honest, it’s hard to know how the actors ever catch their breath because the pace of practically the entire play is breakneck. They are obviously having fun up there. Kudos to the actors and director Rebecca Gatward for the perfectly orchestrated chaos. Despite the pace, the audience never gets lost in the language. The actors speak their lines as if from the heart rather than memory, making the intent of every line clear.
Set and costume designer Liz Cooke creates a simple environment with a wooden stage and rustic tent and opts for more contemporary apparel to create the Turkish ambiance. Though spartan, it works. And on opening night, we didn’t feel deprived of the visual splendor that comes with elaborate Elizabethan costumes, since we could ogle amazing brocades and pearls on many of the audience members who knew how to party like it’s 1623!
Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole has impressed us again with his merry players, and the Broad Stage staff and audience know how to play off of their playfulness. We’re already looking forward to the Globe Theatre’s fourth year in Santa Monica.
—Julie Riggott, Culture Spot LA
Performances continue through Nov. 27 at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, (310) 434-3200, http://thebroadstage.com. Other shows coming up at the Broad Stage and the smaller Edye include: “Jane Austen Unscripted” with holiday tea (Dec. 3-18) and Helen Hunt in “Our Town” (Jan. 13-Feb. 12).