Staged briskly, Utah Shakespeare Festival's ‘Comedy of Errors’ is brilliantly hysterical

Published: Monday, July 7 2014 4:20 p.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, July 10 2014 11:34 a.m. MDT

A scene from Utah Shakespeare Festivals "The Comedy of Errors."

Karl Hugh, Utah Shakespeare Festival

“THE COMEDY OF ERRORS,” through Aug. 30; Adams Shakespearean Theatre, 351 W. Center, Cedar City; $35-$77 (435-586-7878 or bard.org)

CEDAR CITY — Some will say that Shakespeare leaves them “bard senseless.”

But far from boring is “The Comedy of Errors,” and there will be no snoring at Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production.

As directed and conceived by Brad Carroll, “Comedy of Errors” is buoyant and brisk — and brilliantly hysterical.

Perhaps the most farcical of the Bard’s comedies, the humor of “The Comedy of Errors” involves mistaken identities and slapstick bits, along with breezy puns spoken in Shakespeare’s trademark word play.

With one character a goldsmith and a gold chain one plotpoint, Carroll sets the “The Comedy of Errors” in a 1849 California gold rush town and employs many troupes of comedy Westerns, such as “Blazing Saddles” and “Cat Ballou” (and unlike the current Seth MacFarlane bomb, “A Million Ways to Die in the West”). When one player makes use of a spittoon, there’s a “clink” noise. A shotgun is fired in the air and a bird drops at the shooter’s feet. There’s also a remote-controlled tumbling tumbleweed — a troublesome gag to steer across stage.

The story begins when two sets of identical infant twins, along with their adoptive parents, are separated. Each twin shares a name and each twin was raised in a separate town: Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse; and Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse. The rough-and-tumble mix-up shenanigans begin when the four meet — one of the Dromios searches for his twin Antipholus, while this Antipholus, after a shipwreck that divided them, is unaware he has a twin, along with the other twin clueless of his twin. Oh, also, one set of twins is a slave to the other set of twins.

One twin is loaned a satchel of gold and then it is demanded back from his identical twin. A wife confuses the wrong man for her husband.

Confused? So are the characters in the play.

The concept for the play’s setting is the star here, though star players are essential, and each shines.

As the haughty Antipholus twins, Chris Amos and Drew Shirley prove excellent comedians. And ditto the knockabout servants, Aaron Galligan-Stierle and Misha Fristensky as the Dromio twins. The foursome nails the physical comedy with finesse, along with the deft delivery required for the unaltered (for the most part) Shakespeare text. And it’s a joy to see how well the actors relate to each other.

The two sisters — Cassandra Bissell as Adriana, the genteel wife of Antipholus of Ephesus; and Eva Balistrieri as Luciana, a bespectacled schoolmarm — prove stalwart actors. In the role of Courtesan, garbed as a saloon hostess, Kaitlin Margaret Mills is a delight.

Playing the cross-dressing servant Nell, Michael A. Harding is a hoot. It’s a small role but some of best comedy is written about the hideous Nell. One of the Dromios (of Syracuse, I believe) describes her as "spherical, like a globe; I could find out countries in her.” A witty exchange follows in which Antipholus (I’m not clear which one) jokingly challenges Dromio to identify each nation in her body parts. Ireland is her/his buttocks, and Dromio “found it out by the bogs.”

Another facet of this gem staging where the director mines comic gold are the long-winded expository monologues delivered at breakneck speed and then the performances heartily applauded by onstage cast members.

It’s all madcap adventure until the two sets of twin brothers are reunited — by the gun-toting nun Emilia, who is revealed as husband to Egeon, and Emilia and Egeon are the parents of the Antipholus and Antipholus and adoptive parents of Dromio and Dromio.

“The Comedy of Errors” will leave you in stitches.

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