Tale of mistaken identities

Theatre in the Rough presents its latest Shakespeare comedy - 'The Comedy of Errors'

Posted: Thursday, November 03, 2005

Theatre in the Rough reaches back to William Shakespeare's early days for its fall play, "The Comedy of Errors," a short, slapstick headache with four twins and a dizzying maelstrom of mistaken identity.

The story examines the attitudes, roles and relationships between men and women - a subplot the company is hoping to emphazise by using an all-female cast.

Co-founders Aaron Elmore and Katie Jensen have been waiting for the right moment to pay homage to actresses such as Nell Gwyn and playwrights such as Aphra Behn. They were pioneers in English theater at the beginning of the Restoration in 1660, when Charles II allowed women on stage as actresses.

In Shakespeare's day, morality laws prohibited women from acting.

"All of us actresses that are able to act on the same stage owe a lot to Nell Gwyn and also the playwright Aphra Behn," Jensen said.

"In our American world and American theater, and even here in our town, actresses are thwarted so often by the small but undeniable fact that most plays have a predominance of male roles," she said. "It's time to turn the tables, especially here in Juneau. Why? Because there are so very many talented women that no one has seen or had the chance to see before."

"The Comedy of Errors" opens at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4-5, at McPhetres Hall, and plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, through Dec. 3. There will be no shows during Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 24-26.

The timing of the play coincides with Perseverance Theatre's production of "Twelfth Night," another Shakespearean comedy about mistaken identity, twins and shipwrecks. The confusion in "Twelfth Night" is triggered by disguise and gender-masking. "Comedy of Errors" is driven by resemblances.

"We've done a fall show for quite a number of years, and it just happened that they started bumping into each other," said Elmore, the play's director. "It seemed like an interesting thing for Juneau to have all this going on at the same time."

"The Comedy of Errors" was one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, and perhaps his earliest comedy. It was first performed on Dec. 28, 1594. Shakespeare borrowed the outline of the story from the ancient Roman comedy "Menaechmi," by Plautus (254-184 B.C.).

"As a schoolboy he very likely studied Roman comedy as a way to learn Latin, and of course, all school kids have been making fun of what they've been studying all along," Elmore said. "You can imagine his imagination running wild as he read these silly comedies with shipwrecks and broad characters. It's his first comedy, and right out of the gate, he put it all in. It is indeed, the comedy of errors. It has every single bit of confusion he could jam in."

'comedy of errors'

theatre in the rough

• when: opens 8 p.m. friday and saturday, nov. 4-5; 8 p.m. thursdays, fridays and saturdays, through dec. 3. no shows on nov. 24, 25 and 26.

• where: mcphetres hall.

• free day care: thursday, nov. 10, courtesy of the holy trinity church youth.

• tickets: in advance, $16 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for students 12 and under. available at hearthside books. at the door, $18 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for students 12 and under.

The story begins with Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse, condemned to death for traveling to the rival town of Ephesus. Egeon is searching for his wife and one of his twin sons, separated from him 25 years ago during a shipwreck. Egeon survived, holding on to half the wreckage and his other twin son.

The twins, both named Antipholus, are roaming Ephesus. Antipholus of Syracuse is witty and prone to moments of introspection. Antipholus of Ephesus is quick-tempered and impulsive. They both have slaves named Dromio, also identical twins.

"Everyone in the audience knows the characters are not the same person," Elmore said. "The joke is on the characters on the stage, and the fun is for the audience, knowing more than the characters. But I think there's one last surprise in here that nobody will quite foresee."

This is Theatre in the Rough's 11th Shakespeare production, and its first comedy since "As You Like It" in 2003. Its last Shakespeare play was the dark "Richard III."

"We really wanted a comedy that was very slapstick," Jensen said, "It's the closest thing they had to our vaudeville and burlesque. We're not doing it as bawdy as the Romans would do it. We'd all be arrested."

Jensen and Maria Gladziszewski play the two Antipholi. Antipholus of Syracuse (Gladziszewski) is more reflective, given to angst. His twin, Antipholus of Ephesus (Jensen), is impulsive, and prone to rage.

"You have to be very precise in your physical comedy," Jensen said. "It's not event-based, it's more character-based. It's about the foibles and mistakes they make as characters. We've watched each other and set gestures that are the same. Not only do we look as alike as possible, we move the same way and try to adopt the same speech patterns."

Though Gladziszewski is a Theatre in the Rough regular, this is her first turn in a Shakespeare production.

"I'm really enjoying the Shakespeare," Gladziszewski said. "It takes awhile. There's so much to mine and so much to still learn."

"Comedies are difficult to do," she said. "The timing makes a difference, and the audience make a huge difference. We've been working on it with each other, and you just lose track of what's funny, and what's only funny because the people in the room are laughing when someone does something different."

Asha Falcon (Dromio of Syracuse) and Doniece Gott (Dromio of Ephesus) play the two slaves - slapstick characters who are often pushed around by the Antipholi. The Dromios need their wit to diffuse difficult situations.

Elmore, Gladziszewski, Falcon and Gott have known each other for 15 years and last shared the stage in Theatre in the Rough's 2002 production of the Greek tragedy "Trojan Women."

"When I first met Doni years ago, working on 'Fry Tales,' we had the same kind of clown training, and she's had a big grounding in that," Elmore said. "Asha has been in shows with us for quite a long time, beginning with 'Midsummer' years ago. They work well together and they've been in shows with us and have been cast opposite each other. I knew that would be a fairly strong pairing, and comedically I knew they could handle the more youthful feeling."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com

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