Theatre Review: ‘The Comedy of Errors’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

Solveig Moe (Luciana), Rob Schonthaler (Dromio of Ephesus), and Madeleine Stevens (Adriana). Photo by Corey Sentz.

I’ve never seen Shakespeare done quite like this.

It doesn’t take a lot to get me out to see a Shakespeare play, and when I saw the Annapolis Shakespeare Company was doing The Comedy of Errors, in steampunk, no less, I had to check it out. No matter how successful they might or might not have been, I knew that if nothing else, it would be creative, and when it comes to Shakespeare, that is something I find easy to appreciate. This production, directed by Sally Boyett-D’Angelo and playing now at the Bowie Playhouse, quite simply blew me away.

Now, for the reasons I mentioned above, I would already consider this production a must-see. It is fun to see how people breathe new life into Shakepeare’s comedies. I did not realize, at the time, that I would be seeing a production put on by actors mostly aged 19 and under, however, and if I had, I would probably have been even more curious, and perhaps a little more nervous.

Griffin Horn (Antipholus of Syracuse) surrounded by members of the ensemble: (L to R: Perry Gregory, Emily Diekemper, James Boulden, Caleb Pimpo and Alexa Cripe). Photo by Corey Sentz.

As it is, however, this is one of the best Shakespeare productions I’ve ever seen. It’s not the steampunk set and costume design, although both were done with exquisite detail and care. The synopsis’ explanation of Egeon being a “time-traveler” and the inclusion of a motion-stop remote control used by some of the characters are fun, nice touches, but don’t really do anything to alter or get in the way of the action and text. I think the best part of this unique production is the slapstick, vaudeville choreographic interpretation of the comedy. First of all, slapstick isn’t for everyone, and is not something I would consider easy to pull off. Having never been one much for The Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy myself, I wasn’t sure I would be able to enjoy all the “violent” humor, but the sheer athleticism and art of it made it so much fun I found it utterly hilarious.

These actors danced around each other beat after beat, and not once did their activity take away from their lines, which were executed with the mastery and expression of actors who are quite comfortable with the classical text and know exactly what they are saying, and why it is so funny. Over-the-top expressions, wacky chase scenes complete with slamming doors and boisterous symphonic anthems do delightful justice to Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, and it is incredible that they are able to keep up the energy the whole time without making a ton of errors themselves! If they are ever nervous, there’s no hint of it; from ensemble to lead, these actors are fully absorbed in every moment.

This production … quite simply blew me away.

Particular standouts were the two Dromios, played by Joshua Boulden and Rob Schonthaler, who were made to look unbelieveably alike and were fortunate to be uncannily similar in body type. The two Antipholuses…Antipholes…Antipholi were also well characterized by Griffin and Patrick Horn, who are brothers, fortunately for the director.

Patrick Horn (Antipholus of Ephesus), Madeleine Stevens (Adriana) and Rob Schonthaler (Dromio of Ephesus). Photo by Corey Sentz.

I also greatly enjoyed Madeleine Stevens as Adriana, as she is wonderfully dramatic and exaggerated in her woe. Some of the supporting cast and ensemble members who also stood out and got some belly laughs from me included the extremely foppish Angelo, played by Nicholas Smith, Jerad Lee, who plays a conjurer and a merchant (the one with a thick German accent and the other a think, hysterical Spanish), and Michelle Alade, who plays a jolly, enormous maid and who had me howling when she picked up her fat suit and, bellowing, showed her skinny legs as she charged from one end of the stage to the other. I wasn’t the only one, either. A mysterious, graceful gypsy who later proves to have a greater role in the story is played by Alexa Cripe, who has an excellent presence.

There are so many wonderful things to say about the whole cast that I can’t do them all justice, but they worked so well together their fun and enthusiasm was infectious. It is hard not to love them.

The set design by Steven Royal is also quite amazing; a giant Roman-numeral clock stands at the center of the whole production, and whenever it “chimes,” the whole auditorium is filled with the sound. It was actually a little creepy, which I loved. My favorite moment in the play is a chaotic mob fight scene in which the backdrop for a pile-up blatantly pokes fun at a famous musical.

I was most impressed by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company in this production, and I’d say not only would I see this and others by the company, but I think it provides some wonderful opportunities that I hope many other young thesbians will have a chance to become involved with.

Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.

The Comedy of Errors plays through August 11, 2012 at Annapolis Theatre Company at The Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-415-3513, or purchase them online.