Oh those Elizabethans, those cutups, those bawdy scamps. If we had only William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors to go by, we'd wonder how the Brits ever built an empire between all the misidentifications and panicked confusions. Mixed Magic Theatre is presenting the play (through August 23), directed by Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, outdoors at Town Landing, on Taft Street in Pawtucket. (In case of rain, performances are indoors, in their Main Street theater space.)
This comedy is the most slapstick of Shakespeare's kneeslappers, a rush of unrelenting farcical misunderstandings, which is especially effective to modern audiences in this compressed form (less than two hours). It's the first comedy that the young Bard wrote, with only a few years' playwriting experience under his belt. So he doesn't take any chances on overlooking comic possibilities, stealing shamelessly from existing giddy excesses by the Roman satirist Plautus.
The setup for this nonsense involves two sets of twins. The wealthy duos were separated in a shipwreck soon after birth, each paired with a parent and one of the peasant twins who were purchased as their slaves. Their father, Egeon (Pitts-Wiley), explains this as he faces execution in Ephesus where, although men of Syracuse are prohibited from entering, he has been searching for his missing son. (His missing wife? Not a priority.)
That's the same day that the son he raised, Antipholus of Syracuse (Carlos Campbell), comes to Ephesus to search for Antipholus of Ephesus (Matt Fraza). (Conveniently for the farcical potential, the Syracuse son adopted the name of the brother he seeks, as a sort of homage.) Egeon gets a brief reprieve, just enough time for everything to be sorted out before being saved at the last-minute, with all identities straightened out and families united.
Before all is well, of course, all that possibly can go wrong does. There are accusations of theft and infidelity, not to mention demented forgetfulness. Blamed for many of the mishaps, the poor Dromios — the servants, too, have the same name — grow depressingly accustomed to being beaten. You say I didn't give you money? Beaten. You wouldn't let me into my own house? Beaten.
Neither Antipholus does much better, though their drubbings are usually psychological. The one who lives in Ephesus gets barred by the Syracusian Dromio from the gate of his house because the Antipholus from Syracuse is dining with his wife. So he has dinner with a local courtesan (Elizabeth Forks), which leads to additional problems. He also purchases a golden chain from a merchant (Jim Webster), who has given it to the other Antipholus, which leads to his arrest for nonpayment.
The out-of-town Antipholus doesn't have a pleasant time of it either, apart from a nice dinner. He is attracted to his ostensible wife's sister, Luciana (Tammy Brown), enough to make an elaborate seduction speech to her. He and his proper Dromio are convinced that all the strange happenings must be due to witchcraft, for which Ephesus is known. They purchase the aid of a part-time sorcerer named Dr. Pinch (Jay Chatelle), who attempts all the right booga-booga! exorcisms but only succeeds in complicating matters further. The Ephesians are bound up as madmen, and when the Syracusians immediately show up wielding swords, they are mistaken for the escaped crazies.