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Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare

ISF opener sizzles to a Latin theme

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Rain delayed the opening of Idaho Shakespeare Festival's performance of The Comedy of Errors twice in early June. It was the first time in 33 years of ISF history that two consecutive shows were canceled. When the clouds finally lifted, the cast threw their pent-up energy into the show with gusto. It was worth the wait.

Hot Latin dancing, sight gags and loud '60s swinger costumes set the stage in this mistaken-identity farce. The production sambas to a sexy, Brazilian jazz theme--though not specific to any one time and place--giving it a vaguely exotic feel.

The sets paint a seaside picture, with wood and iron slat-covered windows, Spanish austerity and few flowery details. The colorful costumes, sexy music and choreography, however, all spell Rio de Janeiro, an oddly natural choice for this whimsical, early Shakespearean comedy. Guys wear big, loud suits, shoulder pads and loose, baggy pants, while the women slink around in tight hip-huggers and colorful tops.

With the scene set, Shakespearean banter takes off. Some words won't register--until you get the sight gags. We see lusty gropings, flailing swords, knowing glances and beatings with a hat not seen since the Skipper whooped up on poor Gilligan. All these help make sense of Ye Olde English.

Antipholus of Syracuse, is a bland sort. He was separated from his twin brother, Antipholus of Ephesus, at sea. The same actor plays both brothers, which adds to the fun. By accident, people mistake him for his brother, now a hard-drinking, fast-talking playboy. Syracuse twists relationships with his brother's jealous wife, his leather-laced mistress, a loan shark and his best friend, all played with a great back and forth between actors and audience.

Confused about the plot? The costumes and sight gags make the show clear.

Andrew May plays both Antipholus brothers, toggling back and forth, presenting the seeds of modern drama's morality plays. Ian Gould plays Dromio, a servant who also has a twin. Gould pulls off some big comic gaffes, flailing and falling. His uncanny comedic timing never upstages the central characters but earns him a basketful of laughs. The standout performance comes from Ephesus' wife, Adriana, played by Lynn Allison. A jealous wife, she booms her terrible scorn, then melts into affectionate Jell-O. Middle-aged and neglected, she has family money, power and control of the household, but she also has an unfaithful husband. Her rantings are nothing short of great Shakespeare: raw and eternal, then so tender and vulnerable.

The character resolving all misunderstandings is Egeon, father to the Antipholus brothers. He lands on the island searching for them both with barely any hope. Played by Dudley Swetland, Egeon is deep, sorrowful and tragic, his monotone soliloquy rising and falling like a force of nature, showing the bottomless disappointment of an unlucky parent. It's a hint at the kind of characters Shakespeare would create in his later works. Finally, when the authorities are ready to prosecute that trouble-making Antipholus, Egeon steps up to reveal his separated twin boys. Everyone laughs. Whew.

But for its brief forays into the serious, this play entertains with feisty gusto, offering a highly engaging leisure.

Comedy of Errors runs through July 24. Tickets are $12 to $39. Idaho Shakespeare Festival, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., 208-336-9221, idahoshakespeare.org.

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