Director Kristie Worthey and the Lakewood Playhouse took a bold risk in presenting Shakespeare’s “A Comedy of Errors” as a contemporary comedy set in Portland, with a large cast filled with fresh young faces.
Messing with Shakespeare is nothing new; he’s the most messed-with playwright in history. His plays are nearly always edited and it is not uncommon to update them to modern times. Sometimes it works, and probably more often, it doesn’t. Sadly, Lakewood Playhouse’s bold experiment does not.
In the crowd scenes with mostly young and inexperienced actors portraying street performers and other “Keep Portland Weird” hippie characters, they are loud, clichéd almost to the point of offensive and not particularly funny. I don’t think this is because of the age of the actors; the director simply didn’t pull it off.
Many of the principle characters, by contrast, are excellent, most notably Ben Stahl as Antipholus and Jodie Chapin as Adriana.
“A Comedy of Errors” is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, and critics generally consider it one of his least successful. Even the director of this productions seems to agree, stating in her program notes, “… while it might not be his wittiest or cleverest play, it does portend word play and scenarios in plays to come; a peek into his creative process.”
It has been suggested that in this play Shakespeare tried out many of the plot lines and tropes perfected in his later comedies such as “Twelfth Night,” a grown-up and more sophisticated version of this earlier play.
This version plays on the supposed friendly competition between Portland and Seattle. Aegeon (Cameron Waters), a building developer of Seattle whose new project in Portland is slated to be killed, begs the mayor (Chris Johnstone) for one day to raise money to save the project.
Meanwhile, his son Antipholus of Seattle (Stahl), comes to Portland where his long-lost twin brother Antipholus of Portland is a bike shop owner. The identically named identical twins have identical twin slaves, both named Dromio (Frank Roberts, with Waters doubling as one of the Dromios when they’re on stage at the same time). In typical Shakespearean fashion, everybody confuses the two sets of twins, including the Portland Antipholus’ wife, Adriana (Chapin), and her sister, Luciana (Nastassia Reynolds), whom the Seattle Antipholus falls in love with.
Roberts is outstanding portraying two very different characters, the two Dromios. Likewise, Stahl shows great versatility and a wide range of facial and bodily expressions as Antipholus and Antipholus.
Most outstanding, and a beginning actor who should be destined for good things, is Chapin as Adriana. Seldom have I seen an actor so thoroughly understand a character and become that character so convincingly. The scene where she seduces the twin she thinks is her husband is comic gold, played amazingly well by both Chapin and Stahl. Chapin also is loveable, sassy and funny in a scene on roller skates.
Kudos to Bret Carr for the wonderful set design with the in-joke advertising signs and the flying, cut-out Portland bridges and skylines.
Despite clever word play and funny local references, and despite excellent acting by the main characters, I felt in the end that I had just watched a lampoon of Shakespeare written and produced by high-schoolers.
Check Alec’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for reviews of other area theatrical productions.
A COMEDY OF ERRORS
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 29.
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood.
Tickets: $25, $22 military, $21 seniors and $19.00 students and educators, pay what you can on Thursday and Nov. 19 at 8 p.m.
Information: 253-588-0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org.