Besides, the business of Richard III is a bloody one, and Clothier's Richard seems not just to regard it as an amoral means toward his usurping end but also to relish it for its own sake. So why not have him press himself into Lady Anne until her back kisses the clotted wounds of her murdered father-in-law, or walk over a couple of body bags as if they were cobblestones? What's disarming is Clothier's combination of sadism and Noël Cowardly charm. And though Richard's wit is his alone, the sadism in the production is widespread, as if to suggest that men formed by a culture of violence might get to like it — as long as they are, as Richard would say, in the giving rather than the receiving vein.

comedy of errors
PRECISE MAYHEM If there’s a bit of Moe, Larry, and Curly in this Comedy of Errors, then you’ll know where the Stooges come from.
Except for the bursts of blood and Buckingham's crimson gloves, Hall's Richard III is starkly black and white, its quick transitions enacted behind bed screens as they're whisked across the stage. Much is made of Propeller's casting of men in women's roles, as in Shakespeare's time, but there's not a hint of drag about it here. The women are gotten up as dourly as Lady Bracknell (of whom Tony Bell's Queen Margaret, her large black hat embellished with a red Lancaster rose, is redolent). The actors do not wear wigs, and their performances are chiseled. The remarkable Jon Trenchard (a winsome Dromio in The Comedy of Errors as well as the arranger of the music that enhances both productions) is a diminutive, close-cropped Lady Anne whose primly passionate hatred is just no match for the charisma of Richard. Dominic Tighe is an affecting Queen Elizabeth, increasingly distraught and bedraggled as the "bottled spider" ensnares her kin. And Bell's rigid Margaret is magnificent as she unleashes the curses that will blow back through the play like so many puffs of ill wind.

Albeit manned by the same 14 actors, The Comedy of Errors' party-hearty Ephesus is a world away from the Victorian slaughterhouse of Richard III. The inspiration appears to have been some 1980s island-holiday destination where the band are omnipresent and the margaritas flow. Not that all is liquor and license: the production starts austerely, with an impassive Duke of Ephesus listening to captured Syracusan merchant Ægeon's heartrending if longwinded excuse for being in a town where his presence is punishable by death before rising to shoot him point-blank. Thinking better of it, the Duke offers a 24-hour reprieve that allows the show to explode into two hours of cheeky, pummeling farce before settling into the sweetly redemptive if highly unlikely reunion/resolution characteristic of classical comedy.

The Comedy of Errors, a variation on Plautus's Menæchmi, is perhaps Shakespeare's silliest play. But I have never seen it work as deliriously well as it does here. The premise is that Ægeon, the condemned merchant, had identical-twin sons who, with their identical-twin servants, were separated soon after birth. The pair brought up by him in Syracuse grew up and went in quest of their brethren; he is now looking for them. Of course, no number of occurrences of mistaken identity will prove sufficient for it to dawn on the searching pair that they have found what they are looking for, living right here in Ephesus! Instead, marital and monetary misunderstanding, probable adultery, repeated battery, and presumptions of lunacy will accumulate until the four characters, to the astonishment of all, finally appear on stage at the same time.

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