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A CurtainUp Boston Review
The Comedy of Errors

By Jenny Sandman Boomershine
Small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast.— Antipholus.
Comedy of Errors-Propeller
David Newman as Luciana in Propeller's Comedy of Errors.
I first saw Propeller Theatre Company at BAM in New York in 2007, when they presented Twelfth Night and Taming of the Shrew. Propeller is a UK-based all-male Shakespearean repertory troupe, and as I pointed out four years ago, their graceful and delicate handling of the play belies the all-male casting. Indeed, the actors are so skillful that after a few minutes, you almost forget they're all men. These aren't simpering drag queens or men bent on making a point about gender relations; they are simply very, very good actors. Also very, very funny actors.

Comedy of Errors is one of those lesser Shakespearean works, "lesser" in the sense that it relies heavily on those old comedy chestnuts, mistaken identities and bumbling servants. (And those were chestnuts 400 years ago.) We have identical twins separated at birth, both with the same name: Antipholus — who have identical twin servants separated at birth, both named Dromio. Got that? So when they find themselves in the same city, the two identical twin brothers and their identical twin servants, with the same names no less, naturally everyone mistakes one for the other and high jinks ensue. Each pair is blissfully unaware of the other's existence, until the very end of the play, when they are all reunited with their missing brothers and parents. In between, there are a lot of double-takes, pratfalls, and at least one naked man with a lit sparkler in his ass. (No, really.)

It's to Propeller's credit that they never stoop to making jokes about men in drag, and that they don't allow the physical comedy to overshadow the complex Shakespearean language. Their production is set "south of the border," in a modern-day version of a Three Amigos Mexican town; with graffiti-covered sheet-metal walls, haphazardly-strung Christmas lights, and sombreros. The best part of this concept is that the cast doubles as an impromptu mariachi band; in fact, should their acting careers ever lapse, I daresay these guys could make a decent living as a mariachi band. The pace is crisp, the ensemble is tight, there's just enough shtick to keep the audience amused (but not so much that we start rolling our eyes). Director Edward Hall is to be commended for perfectly balancing the production on that particular tightrope.

Propeller is running Comedy of Errors in repertory with Richard III which I didn't get a chance to see. But I have no doubt it's just as good, and innovatively staged, as this Comedy of Errors. Propeller has become my new favorite Shakespearean troupe. At this point, I'd pay to watch them dramatize the phone book.
The Comedy of Errors
Written by William Shakespeare; adapted by Edward Hall and Roger Warren
Directed by Edward Hall
With Richard Clothier (Duke), John Dougall (Aegeon), Dugald Bruce-Lockhart (Antipholus of Syracuse), Sam Swainsbury (Antipholus of Ephesus), Richard Frame (Dromio of Syracuse), Jon Trenchard (Dromio of Ephesus), Robert Hands (Adriana), David Newman (Luciana), Wayne Carter (Balthasar), Thomas Padden (Angelo), Dominic Tighe (Officer), Kelsey Brookfield (Courtesan), Tony Bell (Pinch), and Chris Myles (Aemilia)
Design: Michael Pavelka
Lighting Design: Ben Ormerod
Original Music: Jon Trenchard
Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission
Boston University Theatre, Huntington Theatre Company, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA
Tickets begin at $25
Presented in repertory with Richard III; schedule varies
May 18 - June 19, 2011
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman Boomershine based on May 21st performance
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