The opening of Theatre Erindale’s Comedy of Errors, written by William Shakespeare and directed by David Matheson, uses projections to create a world. Waves whoosh and seagulls caw in the background, greeting the opening scene with an energetic group of pirates. Elderly Syracusan merchant Egeon (Zane O’Connor) is about to walk the plank.
So begins Shakespeare’s comedy about mistaken identity. Things are about to get pretty darn confusing. Egeon manages to save his life by telling the Duke (Alessa Dufresne) about how he lost both his happiness and half his family on a stormy voyage. Here’s how it works: Egeon and his wife have twin sons. Egeon purchased another set of twins to be his twins’ servants. Sadly, everyone becomes separated in a shipwreck: Egeon ends up with one of each twin, and the other pair are also together (but separated from the other two, if that makes sense). The mother is lost completely. As if this isn’t enough, both of Egeon’s sons wind up being named Antipholus (though Egeon doesn’t know this yet) and both the servants are called Dromio. As Egeon tells the Duke, he has come to Ephesus in search of his son Antipholus and his slave Dromio, the two he needs to complete the family set.
In the next scene, the audience meets Antipholus of Syracuse (John Wamesly) and his slave Dromio of Syracuse (Gregory Guzik) who have just arrived in Ephesus. The confusion of the play begins as the characters of Syracuse get as mixed up as possible in the lives of their twins, Antipholus of Ephesus (Jonathan Muench) and Dromio of Ephesus (Thinh Nugyen).
Matheson writes that the production team imagined the boys from Syracuse as early Christian missionaries and Ephesus as a pirate cove, but despite the fundamental differences in background, both of the Antipholuses and Dromios wear similar clothing, further adding to the reasons no one can tell them apart.
The play becomes even more complicated when the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, the fiery Adriana (Rachel Vanduzer) comes to fetch her husband for dinner. Of course, she gets the wrong man, and her real husband, Antipholus of Ephesus, and Dromio of Ephesus arrive home to find themselves locked out.
Matheson’s Comedy of Errors is highly dependent on physical comedy. The truth is that with all the confusion and on-and-off movement, slapstick is a hard thing to fight. From start to finish, the show is full of mirror sequences, (funny) beatings, swordplay, more beatings, and general hullaballoo. But the fact that the cast pulls off this kind of comedy proves just how well-rehearsed they are.
In a film version of Comedy of Errors, it would be nearly impossible to cast two sets of twins that did not look identical. But on stage, one of the most refreshing elements is that as long as you explain to the audience what is going on, the twins don’t really have to look alike. What both pairs in this production do have is comparable energies.
Matheson’s choice to use projectors and soundtracks to set the scenes is seamless. The scenes shift from ship to marketplace without requiring huge set changes. The most memorable is a monologue Dromio of Ephesus delivers, where the projector screen colours become unnatural greens and blues. The other characters on stage move in slow motion as Dromio speaks. Then the projectors shift and the characters resume their actions at full speed.
Comedy of Errors runs again on Sunday, February 28, at 7:30pm.