Theater review: Double, double, twins and trouble with Shakespeare's 'Comedy of Errors'
With a high-powered scene-stealing tag team of fools, "The Comedy of Errors" opened Friday night in Superior as a joint production of Wise Fool Theater and the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
Only William Shakespeare would be audacious enough to have not one, but two sets of identical twins, separated by a storm at sea, and give each pair of twins identical names.
Antipholus and his slave Dromio travel from Syracuse to search for his sibling in Ephesus. Both the Antipholus twins and the Dromio twins dress alike (because otherwise characters could tell them apart).
Cast as the twin Dromios, Cheryl Skafte and Jennie Ross are given free rein by director Chani Ninneman to reign havoc on dialogue and masters alike. I stopped counting how many times the pair got laughs by coming up with something the bard never put on the printed page.
Why Shakespeare lets this play end without an epic battle of (half) wits between the two is beyond me.
Chandler Oja, as Antipholus of Syracuse, does the best job of making Shakespeare sound contemporary, taking full advantage of being able to address the audience directly in his numerous asides.
The only misstep comes when Oja's Antipholus puts the moves on Luciana, played by Kitara Peterson, who thinks this is her sister's husband. His comic overtures reek of insincerity and cuts against the grain of the character Oja had created.
Peterson has a nice little moment early on as Luciana salivates over the male of the species, while Jordan Smith has fun assailing the Ephesus pair through the little peephole with a little door on the big front doors Jeff Brown designed for the house.
Several characters react to the escalating errors with righteous anger, not always played for laughs. As Antipholus of Ephesus, Tygen Lundgren plays his exasperation well when he finally gets to lay out everything that has happened to him in excruciating detail.
As his wife, Adriana, Anissa Peppersack gets to unload on the other Antipholus in a fiery speech, and then be bewildered by everything that is happening.
As master of exposition, Chris Nollet's Egeon, long lost father to the Antipholus twins, is only temporarily handicapped by being handcuffed. Maria Lockwood's Duke of Ephesus sets the tone for the cast's approach to Shakespeare in modern dress.
Kirsten Hambleton takes control in the final scenes as the Abbess ex machina who gets everything straightened out in the end.
Ninneman uses a blend of Seventies disco and funk music for scene changes, as when "Will It Go Round in Circles" gives a nod to the comic confusion. But also to specifically set a scene, most notably when "Let's Get It On" underscores Antipholus of Syracuse's attempt to hit on Luciana and when "Bad Girls" sends Jordan Smith's Courtesan off to see her lover's wife.
While any scene without a twin pales in comic intensity, this entertaining production certainly embodies Wise Fool's mission to make Shakespeare accessible to everyone.
If you go
• What: "The Comedy of Errors" by William Shakespeare
• Where: Manion Theatre, Holden Fine & Applied Arts Center at the University of Wisconsin-Superior
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through May 5.
• Tickets: $20 adults, $15 students/seniors, $10 children 12 and younger, and $5 for UWS students.
Lawrance Bernabo is a professor of communications and longtime arts critic for the News Tribune.