From this jolly show’s opening, when a crowd of characters bursts onto stage through a sliding door as if they’ve just been shot out of a rocket, to the winning final scene, when the entire ensemble offers a series of nudge-and-wink vocal acknowledgements of Shakespeare’s silliness, the production barrels along with such polished frenzy that it almost leaves you breathless. In scene after scene, director Brad Myers — who sets the production in the visual style and with the artistic temperament of a 1950s sitcom — composes one witty tableaux after another, with the sight gags and puns drily doled out with a strong, snappy sense of physicality and the text delivered with confidence and aplomb. (It plays Thursdays-Saturdays through July 16.)
But if I had to pick one moment as my favorite, it would be Gabriela Lawson’s hilarious first exit in the play.
We meet Lawson at the beginning of the scene in a flurry: As the harried housewife Adriana, her appearance and demeanor practically screams Sitcom Mom. With her hair in a high curly bun, she’s wearing sleek blue capri pants, bright red knotted blouse and jaunty scarf around her neck. And she holds a big turkey platter in her arms. She looks as if she just walked off the set of “The Donna Reed Show.” (Kelly Pantzloff-Curry designed the wonderful costumes.) As one of the many characters in Shakespeare’s comedy who are thrown off by the fact there are two sets of identical twins wandering around the city of Ephesus — one of whom is her husband — she’s peeved that he didn’t show up for dinner.
At the conclusion of the scene, Lawson prepares to stomp off — and then she stops, looks over her shoulder, turns around and sweeps the turkey platter off the table in a deft move that would have made Lucille Ball proud.
This production of “The Comedy of Errors” is filled with many such chuckles. It’s not exactly Shakespeare’s most scorching contribution to the canon in terms of sheer human connection, but the play is as clever and silly as they come. We learn the basics in a smart opening scene by the wandering father Egeon (a sturdy Hal H. Bolen II). Seems he lost track of his twin sons — and the twin servants attending each — in a mishap that left each twin unaware of his sibling. Little does Egeon know that one master-and-servant pair ended up in the city of Ephesus, and the other pair has just arrived.
Mistaken identities fuel the play. How could they not with two sets of identical twins?
Many non-traditional Shakespeare productions have a grand time updating settings and costumes, but once you get past the visuals, it can feel a little awkward. Not this “Comedy of Errors.” The style of the show — Ian Loveall designed the functional, brightly hued set — is a perfect match for the breezy material. Myers is totally committed to the ’50s sitcom motif, including dialects and acting styles (think “I Love Lucy” meets “Father Knows Best”), and keeps the pace moving along with almost draconian sitcom speed. (The production clocks in at a brisk hour and a quarter.) Yet for all this speed, I never for a moment thought that any member of the cast didn’t fully understand the text.
Myers leaves plenty of time for comedy. Even throwaway jokes get a full-throttled laugh treatment. “How have you lost your breath?” one character asks another who has entered panting hard. “By running fast,” he replies with just the right amount of exaggeration, creating a laugh-out-loud moment.
The entire ensemble is strong, right down to the nameless townspersons and servants. (Consider Dane Oliver, a Fresno State acting standout. He has a very small role as a messenger, but every time on stage he’s 100% in the moment.) Along with Lawson’s manic charms as the loopy Adriana, standouts include Erin Baird as her character’s sister, Luciana; Ryan Christopher Woods as an unforgettable Courtesan; and Stephen Torres as an amiable exorcist.
But it’s the “twins” who steal the show, and rightly so. Shawn Richard Pereira, as Antipholus of Syracuse, and Marcos Hammer, as Antipholus of Ephesus, fire up blistering comic characterizations. (I’ve long been impressed with Hammer on stage, but Pereira is new on my radar, and he does an admirable job connecting on a human as well as a comic level.)
There there’s Dillon Morgan, as Dromio of Ephesus, and Benjamin McNamara, as Dromio of Syracuse, who twist their lanky frames into all sorts of contorted positions in service of the play. Both are hilarious. McNamara is at his best.
It all adds up to a fine, fun way to spend a summer evening. “The Comedy of Errors” ranks as one of the best productions I’ve seen in the history of Woodward Shakespeare Festival.