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The Comedy of Errors

nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
July 9, 2011

It’s summer in New York! Which means that once again, the best entertainment in town is free. Enter The Drilling Company’s fine production of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, expertly directed by Kathy Curtiss. This production, in their annual Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot series, takes place in the public municipal parking lot on Ludlow at Broome. Which means cars can come and go around the action, random passers-by stop to gawk, city bus and traffic noise can interrupt dialogue and generally ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. This is not theatre in a controlled environment. But it’s much more fun and highly popular. The website said to come early to grab a chair; by 7:40 when I got there they were long gone. I estimated about 200 people in attendance at the start of the show. This is perhaps the strongest, funniest, and most creative production of Comedy of Errors I’ve ever seen and it is free.

In the original Comedy of Errors, two sets of twins were separated at sea as babies. One pair of brothers is of noble birth (both named Antipholus) and one pair of brothers are of lower birth (both named Dromio), purchased by Egeon, father of the Antipholuses, to serve his sons. Each pair of an Antipholus and a Dromio ends up being raised separately in Greece – one set in Syracuse, one in Epheseus. Then the Syracuse Antipholus with his servant Dromio travels to Epheseus where their twin brothers live and all sorts of mischief ensues while they and their servants are mistaken for each other because they look identical.

In this production of Comedy of Errors, the action is placed in the Lower East Side in New York, in the present, exactly where we’re watching it. Characters also pass through Little Italy and St. Mark’s Place on occasion. The “Duke” of Epheseus in this version is a mafia-type “Don” representing the Allegretti family. Egeon had been raising his Antipholus in the Caribbean. At the top of the play he has been apprehended by the Don and pleads for his life. Meanwhile his son has just arrived in New York with his servant Dromio. New York-raised Antipholus’s friends are guys you’d see on the street in New York, speak with different accents and wear varying amounts of bling. Adriana (the privileged wife of New-York-raised Antipholus) drives a car in the city, of course, because she can. The characters are all the hipsters, eccentrics, yuppies and gangster-types you’d expect to see on Ludlow.

So, purist alert: Shakespeare’s holy words have been changed here and there to adapt the play to this setting and modern time. I felt that the fun and humor of this was right in line with the zany spirit of the play. Also I love that the play performs in a parking lot in New York City and really inhabits that parking lot setting. Characters use cell phones and skateboard through scene changes. Egeon, with a cardboard sign around his neck, asks the audience for money donations for the bail the Don challenged him to raise. Embracing that we’re outside in chaotic NYC instead of trying to mask a stage or transport the audience somewhere else is refreshing and gives the whole creative team loads to play with. And they do play!

The acting in this production is terrific across the entire ensemble. In addition to skillfully handling Shakespeare’s language, they make all of their characters appropriate to the neighborhood and are all a blast to watch. In particular I really enjoyed Nina Burns’s Adriana, the bereft wife. She was immediately believable, sassy and full of modern “You’ve got to be kidding me” attitude. I cannot imagine two Dromios and two Antipholuses played by more skilled or suitable actors and yet on top of that, they really do look so similar they could be brothers. This is some ridiculously fine, uncompromised casting work! A funnier foursome of highly physical, outrageous actors will not easily be found. Kudos to the Dromios—Jack Herholdt and Shane Mitchell—and the Antipholuses—Garrett Burreson and Thomas Machell—for tirelessly carrying the super-high energy of the play straight through.

Bottom line: Go. Now. Arrive early. Consider bringing a chair. Bring your sense of adventure. Bring your sense of humor. And bring that friend who thinks Shakespeare is boring and that other friend who thinks theater is too expensive. Above all, go, enjoy this gem of a New York summer tradition!