FORT WORTH The Trinity Shakespeare Festival at TCU might be called to task for false advertising for its production of The Comedy of Errors, which opened there Friday.
That’s because there is plenty of comedy in this show directed by Joel Ferrell. But if there are any errors, they are well covered by the audience’s laughter.
This is believed to be the first of the Bard’s comedies, so it stands to reason that it should be so broadly and crudely wrought (in the best possible ways). But its story of two sets of twins separated as children in a shipwreck is also devilishly clever in that it provides a near-infinite well of comic misunderstandings from which the author draws pail after pail of jokes and gags.
All the confusion sets in because, in a bit of coincidence that only a play this old could present with an almost straight face, the separated twins find themselves in the same city at the same time. All those who encounter the high born Antipholus (Richard Haratine) and his servant Dromio (Jakie Cabe) think they are their brothers, who reside in the city the pair is visiting.
These rolling cases of mistaken identity sweep up even Antipholus’ wife, Adriana (Lydia Mackay), who is perhaps more distraught about the whole business than even the separated twins. A gold chain is tossed into the mix to increase the dollar value of the befuddlement. But emotions matter more than money to the characters trying to sort out this stubborn case of double vision.
This production starts to win you over the minute you lay eyes on it. Tristan Decker’s elaborate multi-tiered set suggesting a capital of the exotic Near East is a wonder to behold. I’m not sure how practical it is, but it sure looks great bathed in a lighting plan (also by Decker) that makes especially good use of some gorgeous blue tones. And Lloyd Cracknell’s beautifully crafted costumes convey the time setting of this production (somewhere in the between-the-wars era of the 20th century) with real panache.
Ferrell is well known to Fort Worth audiences for his work at Casa Mañana, but several years ago he shifted his regular base of operations to Dallas Theater Center, where he is artistic director. Ferrell directs this comedy as if it were a road picture that Hope and Crosby never made, called something like The Road to Constantinople. It has the same kind of wacky, happy-go-lucky, buddy-film vibe as that great cinematic series. And Cabe and Haratine are perfect substitutes for Bing and Bob — right down to the similarity that Cabe/Hope garners most of the yuks.
One particularly creative aspect of Ferrell’s extremely busy direction (indeed, some might find his hand too apparent in this show) is found in his transitions. Each change of scene is signaled by a noisy shuffling of characters around the labyrinthine set. It is a neat little device that is entertaining in its own right while also reinforcing the manic personality of the comedy.
While Cabe and Haratine carry the show, they are far from alone. But the other fine actors in this cast, such as Mackay and the irrepressible David Coffee, as Aegeon, the father of Antipholous and the owner of Dromio, just don’t have much to do — more’s the pity.
But this production will delight you so much with what is there that it leaves no time to lament what might be absent. The only error that could be made concerning this comedy is missing it.