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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
The Comedy of Errors

Why should their liberty than ours be more? — Adriana
Because their business still lies out o'door. — Luciana. 
The Comedy of Errors
l to r: Christian Conn and Nick Cordileone in The Comedy of Errors
The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey is off to a merry start with William Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, one of the Bard's earliest plays. So, who knew that the bustling streets of ancient downtown Ephesus were bustling with citizens who dress in contemporary chic? Check out the hot dog vendor, balloon seller and the well-stocked fruit stand as they vie for business. A magazine stand that sells trendy bottled water is a magnet for the merchants and citizens scurrying about under the heat of the Ionian sun.

Also above the ado in set designer Wilson Chin's amusing evocation of a Greek agora are clothes lines, decorative flags, and strands of colored lights strung from building to building. The town's old walls have remnants of partially stripped away posters, and the side-by-side homes and shops have just the expected number of doors ready for quick access.

But all is not well, as armed soldiers wearing red berets and dressed in their pressed kaki uniforms enhanced with red sashes have just arrested an old man, suspected of being (oh dear) an illegal alien. When it comes to attire, costume designer Alixandra Gage Englund has dressed the women attractively in sexy summery print frocks and consigned handsome white suits for the two Antipholus's (or is it Antipholi?).

Once your eyes have taken in all that there is (and there's more) you can sit back and enjoy the action of a remarkably robust and rowdy group of farceurs as they deliver the 1778 lines that Shakespeare so craftily wrote for his briefest play. Certainly the ingeniously inane complexity of this comedy-farce that deals with two sets of identical twins and the errors of identity that ensue, has remained unparalleled through the years.

Happily, there are few errors of comedy to be found in the staging by Stephen Fried, who is making his Festival mainstage debut. Fried, a native of Madison, NJ who has earned some impressive regional credits, may now look back 17 years to when he was 11 years old and give due credit to the Shakespeare Theater of NJ where he was first formally introduced to the world of theater through their programs for students. Subsequently, Fried earned a BA in drama and history from Stanford University and an MFA in directing from the Yale School of Drama.

Even as the pace and activity take precedence under Fried's guidance, as it should, and supercedes the plight of individuals there is an ample taste of identities in the making. As expected, the play's convolutions conspire toward more confusion. A series of madcap misadventures ensue following the arrest in Ephesus, of Egeon (Richard Bourg), a merchant of Syracuse who was separated during a shipwreck from his wife and one of his infant twin sons eighteen years before. When Egeon's son arrives with his servant, in the very same town where his brother and servant live, they become victims of mistaken identity.

Derek Wilson is terrific as the increasingly confounded Antipholus, the lost twin, who has grown up and married Adriana, renowned for her venomous clamors. Christian Conn hilariously combines perplexity with frustration as the other twin, also named Antipholus, who has remained single up to the point where the play begins. Both, however, are masters to identical twin servants, both of who are named Dromio and played with complimentary impish impudence by Nick Cordileone and Greg Jackson.

Melissa Condren keeps Adriana's femininity, jealousy and her fury at full throttle. That she and her husband live next to the best little bordello in Ephesus doesn't help their relationship. Deidre Da Silva is an eyeful as the lusty, good-natured courtesan. With a voice and a temperament that suggest anything but sanctuary, Mary Dierson makes a good impression as Antipholus' mother Emilia and long-missing wife of Aegeon who has since become an abbess in a neighboring priory.

James Michael Reilly is subtly comical as the Duke of Ephesus who is holding Egeon for ransom because of some silly feud between the cities, but is more outrageously funny doubling as the conjuring Dr. Pinch. All ends well as the amorous and available Antipholus (you know, the one from Syracuse) finds love with Adriana's surprisingly unruffled sister Luciana, as played with sweetness and spunk by Julia Coffey. John Ahlin puts plenty of visual shtick into his portrayal of Angelo, the goldsmith. True enough that the play is short on characterization but long on verse speeches. Fried, however, maintains the notion that actions often speak louder than words in this brisk and breezy production.

The Comedy of Errors
  By William Shakespeare
  Directed by Stephen Fried

Set Design: Wilson Chin
  Costume Design: Alixandra Gage Englund
  Lighting Design: Charlie Morrison
  Sound Design: Eric Shim
  Cast: Richard Bourg, James Michael Reilly, Vladimi Versailles, Philip Mutz, Christian Conn, Nick Cordileone, Greg Jackson, Melissa Condren, Julia Coffey, Derek Wilson, Raphael Nash Thompson, Sarah Miller, John Ahlin, Frank Copeland, Michael Pauley, Deidre Da Silva, Mary Dierson.
  Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes including intermission
  Shakespeare Theater of NJ at the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theater (On the campus of Drew University) 36 Madison Avenue
  Madison, N.J. (973) 408 - 5600 or Tickets ($53 - $29)
  Performances through 05/18/08
  Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30; Thursdays and Friday at 8; Saturdays and Sundays at 2 and 7.
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 05/03/08
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