BROAD STAGE — There’s something about Shakespeare that brings out the renaissance faire in all of us. Case in point: dozens of members of the audience at the premier of “The Comedy of Errors” at the Broad Stage came decked out in period costumes Saturday.
Oddly enough, the play itself looks like it’s set in a Mediterranean village and the characters dress like 1930s Englishmen on holiday, so the actors on stage looked more contemporary than some of the members of the audience.
“The Comedy of Errors” tells the story of two pairs of twins separated at birth. One pair, master Antipholus (Bill Buckhurst) and servant Dromio (Fergal McElherron), live in Ephesus. When the other Antipholus and Dromio (Buckhurst and McElherron again) visit Ephesus and are seen around town, they are mistaken for their twins to convoluted comic effect. Things only get more complex when Adriana, Antipholus of Ephesus’ jealous and alluring wife (Laura Rodgers), is thrown into the mix.
“The Comedy of Errors” is one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, and perhaps lacks some of the literary depth of his later works. But the players of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre embrace this wholeheartedly, and focus on the broad and bawdy comedy that the play has to offer in abundance.
The performance toys with the theme of doubles and mistaken identity with its small cast of eight.
Playing split-screen role on-stage can be tricky, but Buckhurst portrays two very different and very believable Antipholuses, and McElherron keeps perfect pace in crafting two equally viable Dromios. In fact, every member of the cast plays at least two, sometimes three or four, parts with hilarious agility.
Naturally, putting actors playing multiple parts on stage at the same time creates some blocking issues, but director Rebecca Gatward prefers to exploit the obvious challenges by drawing attention to it for laughs.
Actors don a hat or take off a pair of glasses to transform from one character into another in full view of the audience.
More acrobatic transformations see an actor start on stage as one character, charge to the other side of the set, make a costume adjustment mid-flight, and emerge triumphantly on the other side of the stage as another character, only to have to do it all over again to deliver the next line.
Although in some plays this self referential humor might wear thin, Gatward kept finding bigger and funnier ways to “disguise” the cast out in the open without distracting from the story. In fact, the more characters on stage, the more madcap it becomes; the brilliant revolving door set piece must be seen to be believed.
Shakespeare’s words are as witty as ever, but in this production, slapstick reigns supreme. Almost no member of the cast is safe from being kicked, punched, thrown into a barrel roll, bashed over the head with a plate or slapped with a length of rope.
The action on stage is augmented with hilarious sound effects, provided by the other members of the cast hovering just off stage.
Another nice touch is the live music: drums, accordion and woodwinds. And, once again, it’s all provided by the incredibly versatile actors themselves.
This “Comedy of Errors” features a deft and talented cast that presents an accessible story in a fresh way. In other words, it’s simply good comedy.
“The Comedy of Errors” plays at the Broad Stage through Nov. 27. For more information, visit www.thebroadstage.com or call (310) 434-3200.