"The Comedy of Errors" examines two sets of twins who are in one city. Each man is unaware of his twin's presence, multiplying the possibilities of mistaken identity and comic mayhem. But why stop the doubling there?
Los Angeles currently hosts two versions of Shakespeare's comedy. The producers, though probably aware of each other, betray no evidence of it.
The bigger show, if not necessarily the better, is Shakespeare Festival/LA's, at Pershing Square now, with a move to South Coast Botanic Garden on July 26.
The festival's artistic director, Ben Donenberg, doubling as the show's director, set the action in contemporary L.A.--though the program designation stops a bit short of that concept, saying we're in "Los Ephesus," in a nod to Shakespeare's setting.
In Snezana Petrovic's set, a vista of Hollywood often looms in the background. The main characters wear a lot of black, designed by Alex Jaeger to look casual but chic, in the style of young Hollywood. Antipholus of Ephesus is apparently a celebrity--he occasionally signs his autograph on glossy head shots. For a coda, the cast sings "Hooray for Ephesus" to the tune of "Hooray for Hollywood."
That's only one side of L.A., and Donenberg glances at other parts as well. The front of the stage suggests a head-on view of a snazzy car, with lights that blink and a "No on Proposition 187" bumper sticker still hanging in there, seven years after the measure against illegal immigrants was on the ballot. The reference isn't totally gratuitous, however, for the play opens with a scene in which a man is condemned to death for his illegal immigrant status; the Ephesus laws make Proposition 187 look mild.
At least that's how Shakespeare's text opens; here that scene is preceded by a Day of the Dead procession that does feel gratuitous. The Day of the Dead commemorates those who have already died; it has nothing to do with this condemned man or with the play's gags.
The parade appears to exist solely so that the show can open with a splash of spectacle before we listen to the prisoner's long speech in which he explains how he got there--and the procession disperses before he begins speaking. We don't hear much about the Day of the Dead during most of the play, and a few final references seem no more organic than the first. In the wide-open spaces in which this production takes place, it might have been better to have grabbed the audience's attention with a pantomimed illustration of the prisoner's story rather than with a device that feels so forced.
Donenberg later introduces another side of L.A., as the Tim Peterson Singers, a gospel group, assist the healer who's performing an exorcism on the apparently mad Antipholus. This sudden burst of music, in a production that could use more music earlier, leads into a bluesy solo for the dynamic Paula Jai Parker, as Antipholus' wife.
Michael Manuel's Antipholus and Brian Joseph's Dromio are well-spoken, and Donenberg gets some solid laughs with a clever use of straitjackets, fairly deep into the intermissionless production. But generally the disparate elements never coalesce, and the comedy feels rather distant.
"The Comedy of Errors," Pershing Square, 532 S. Olive St., L.A.; Wednesdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends July 22. Free with canned food donation. Then at South Coast Botanic Garden, 26300 Crenshaw Blvd., Palos Verdes Peninsula, July 26-29, Aug. 1-5, 8:15 p.m. $15-$18. (213) 481-2273; for sign language performances: TTY (213) 485-1592. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Michael Manuel: Antipholus
Brian Joseph: Dromio
Paula Jai Parker: Adriana
Judith Scott: Luciana
Alexander Zale: Egeon
Patrick Stansfield: Solinus
Patricia Belcher: Abbess
Judith Scott: Luciana
Rodney Rincon: Officer
Haskell Vaughn Anderson III: Dr. Pinch
Tony Pandolfo: Angelo
Lighting by Trevor Norton. Fight and movement design by Randy Kovitz. Choreography by Kay Cole. Composer-musical director David O. Production stage manager Amber Wedin.