The Comedy of Errors
- By gentleguide
- On Fri 15 Jun 2018
DMACC Ankeny has started a new tradition of Summer Short Shakespeare. Free for the public, it is an edited version of one of Shakespeare’s plays, performed outdoors and running about 75 minutes. For some of the students, it can be their first exposure to the Bard and his works, and it’s also a nice bite-sized chunk for patrons unfamiliar with his work. Opening next week, this year’s production is The Comedy of Errors.
The basic plot of The Comedy of Errors concerns two pairs of identical twins, separated at birth. Antipholus of Syracuse and his manservant Dromio travel to the city of Ephesus, where they encounter their twins (also identically named Antipholus and Dromio). Multiple rounds of mistaken identity occur, as other acquaintances proceed to mistake one Antipholus for another, and even the principals end up confused with who is supposed to be accompanying whom. Add in mistaken romances, financial woes, and a merry chase or two, and you have a slapstick comedy for the ages.
The Comedy of Editing
While many full-length productions of The Comedy of Errors cast two similarly looking actors as each of the Antipholus characters, and another two as the Dromino pair, Director Carl Lindberg has created the edit of the play in such a way as to allow a single actor to play a set of twins. Both versions of Antipholus are played by David Korkow, while the Dromino pair is played by Alex Brown.
“Cutting and adapting Shakespeare is fun!” says Director Lindberg. “The goal for me is to always make the story interesting while clear and easy to follow. What gets cut can be a range of many possible things: subplots, repetition, contemporary Elizabethan references and/or cultural commentary, entire characters, etc. But there is a lot of content in Shakespeare's plays that we might call ‘spoken decor’.”
“There are many times in some of the speeches where characters are elaborating on something to give the audience the capacity to imagine the setting or other visual or auditory given circumstances that are not actually present. Plays presented in the English Renaissance rarely had detailed sets, costumes were often contemporary clothing, and the play was only lit by the sun. So everything else got described. We don't always need that description nowadays. Comedy of Errors, specifically, is already one of the shortest plays in the canon, so bringing it to 75 minutes is a breeze.”
Alex Brown performed in last year’s Summer Short Shakespeare, a production of Twelfth Night. Dealing with the edited version is a slightly different animal to tame, as he is sure to point out. “The way I’m approaching this script is as its own entity,” says Brown. “While I have read a little of the full version of the play to get a little more context on this version, I just prefer to take this on as its own. While there is still so much from the original in this version, this is its own adaptation; it has its own jokes at times, so I feel it is just better to approach it as its own.”
David Korkow agrees with that assessment. “There are a lot of sections that are kept true to the original Shakespeare, but there have been some big adaptations made by Carl Lindberg to make the play more contemporary. There are even scenes where we check our smartphones, making it feel much more modern (minus the heightened language). Personally I haven't even looked at the original copy of the play very much, considering how unique this version is.”
The Comedy of Language
Realizing that this may be one of the first exposures to Shakespeare for both actors and audience, the perceived obstacles of Elizabethan language and idiom can hopefully be solved, both by editing and by development of the presentation. Korkow continues, “My experience with Shakespeare is relatively limited to be honest. I have only read a few of his plays, and it was usually the result of schoolwork. It can be much more challenging initially when working with this type of old-english language. However, after some conversation as a group and with our director about the meaning of certain things, and what our character is trying to say, it progressively becomes more natural as you work with it. ”
According to Brown, “You have learn the language, sit down and study what you're saying, and you have a little more leeway to just be way more expressive with it. Just this last week, Carl sat down with David and I about character, what we're saying and voice changes for both of our roles of twins.”
Which brings us to how to keep characters straight in this mad and merry mix-up of identical sets of twins. Both for audience and for actors, that’s going to be very important if the story is to make any kind of sense among the nonsense of the comedy. How to do that is of vital importance.
The Comedy of Identical Comedy
Lindberg knew he wanted to take a specific approach right from the start. “Since the time I decided to produce this play I intended to cast both Antipholus twins (Antipholi, I like to call them) with one actor and both Dromio twins with one actor. It's a conceit I have used before that I stole from another adapter/director. I feel like it is such a cohesive style choice, in that it adds to the farcical nature of the play.”
“We plan to simply make quick (sometimes very, very quick) costume changes with vocal and physical differences to delineate each twin. Though the two characters each actor is doubling are alike in that they are twins, they have been separated since birth... so we are working to develop two distinct Antipholi and two distinct Dromios. It's definitely a challenge and a fair amount of work for those two actors.”
The actors found out they had been ‘double cast’ as both of the twin sets immediately. “So before the rehearsal process even began, Carl talked of wanting the twins to be different and to find ways to make them different,” says Brown. “And once the rehearsal process began and we did our first read through as a full cast it was found out that giving Dromio of Ephesus a lisp and then Dormio of Syracuse is the normal one out of the two. The lisp just adds more to comedy level for the character I feel, because even during the read through everyone was laughing and enjoying it. ”
Korkow knows he has his work cut out for him playing both parts, but is ready with a number of different ways to make it work. “When it comes to playing both twins, we are doing our best to make sure it is clear that they are different people. I think the only obvious similarity will be my face and name. Other than that, I have a costume change when switching between characters, as well as a dialect. (We actually just changed one of them to a 'surfer dude' dialect tonight.) I think it would not have been possible to play these two roles without a vocal distinction, because towards the end there are times when I have to shout from off-stage and it needs to be clear which Antipholus is speaking. However even with this I believe there will still be times when the audience gets confused, which is part of the fun. It wouldn't be a comedy of 'errors' if it was clear the entire time.”
Overall, The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s most physical, slapstick comedies, full of wordplay and laughter. “This production is a ton of fun--it moves fast and has some really ridiculous moments that are pretty delightful. We're performing outside again and this should be a fun production that bears some resemblance to how Shakespeare's plays were performed back in the Elizabethan era.”
The Comedy of Errors is presented for six performances, from June 23 – 30, at various times. Outdoor shows will be in the Courtyard between Buildings 2, 5, and 6 on the DMACC Ankeny campus, and admission is FREE. Check the Gentle Guide calendar for specifics about times and dates, and then go enjoy The Comedy of Errors!!