By liz Pawelko
The whirling dervish that is Theatre UAF's take on "The Comedy of Errors" has been advertised as "Shakespeare's zaniest."
But the centrifugal acceleration that normally keeps Shakespeare's plots from losing speed or direction somehow went out of the whack in this production. What might have been zany, witty or even gut-busting, regressed into scatological comedy, not unlike a "Benny hill" rip-off.
Perhaps this problem emerged from Theatre UAF's attempt to bill this as a family production. Certain concessions were make for the younger viewers, who might be unable to puck up meaning from context. What resulted was arch acting and characterization, such as when one character comments he is a Christian man, then slaps his hands together in prayer stance. Or, when the character Aegon speaks the opening soliloquy, giving background information to set up the ensuing action , a puppet show behind him acts out his story.
This sort of Shakespeare infantilization can be overlooked, even welcomed, by viewers who like me, may have forgotten exactly what a pate is. It may slow down pacing, and et may seem exaggerated to excess, but it most likely helps out the younger audiences members.
Yet, it becomes pathetic when kids no longer are given any credit (or even encouragement) to puck up characterization on their own, when all nuances or subtleties vaporize into a cloud of pop-culture allusions and references. This production is packed with bits of Keystone Kops, Three Stooges' antics and Curly's "woo-woo-woo," a Groucho Marx look-alike, the "Home Alone" face-slapping scream, and the "Wayne's World" cry, "shwing."
To call this a family comedy is a misnomer for two reasons: This first acts play almost exclusively to the toddlers in the house, in essence ignoring the adult and adolescent ticket holders. This, as in afterthought, the acts following intermission slip into please the adults.
At one point a character recognizes his long-lost wife, not by sight, not by voice, but by touching her breasts. At the outbreak of the sward fight, a merchant and a goldsmith whip off their hats, spin the pony tails atop their heads, unsheathe their foils and speak gibberish resembling Japanese mimicry. Why these faux samurai should suddenly emerge in a play set along the Mediterranean Sea begs some explanation as will as justification.
An added Frustrates is that "The Comedy of Errors," widely believed to be one of Shakespeare's earliest plays., comes fully loaded with a cast of one-dimensional characters. All the back-breaking double duty the UAF players perform, as both actors and pantomimes, seems so unnecessary.
The plot admittedly zigzag as two sets of twins separated at birth are incessantly mistaken for their matches by debtors, lovers and employers. At each twist, it seems that Shakespeare has gotten his players into another fine mess, one which can't possibly be resolved. Yet "The Comedy of Errors" remains his most deceptively simple and shallow play.
Sadly, only two of the actors recognize that most of the chuckles come from Shakespeare's lines. Karl Kalen as Dromio of Ephesus and Toby Mollett as Antipholus of Syracuse manages what few up on stage could. They keep in character. They don't let grins erupt from grimaces. And when they appear on stage together, especially during one offish fight scene, they create a dynamic synergy, which unfortunately, this "The Comedy of Errors" otherwise lacks.
"The Comedy of Errors" runs through Sunday with shows on Friday and Saturday at 8:15 p.m. and on Sunday at 4 p.m. For more information, call 474-7751