Volume II, Issue III Autumn 2003

What to make of this 'Comedy'?

Review by Jim Trageser

Comedy of Errors
Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted and directed by Robert Richmond

La Jolla Playhouse
Mandell Weiss Theatre
University of California, San Diego campus
Through November 16


Poor William Shakespeare has seen his plays turned into all kinds of productions he could never have imagined. His works have been dragged into the 20th century, turned into westerns, even into science fiction.

But the Aquila Theatre Company seems to believe that Shakespeare is best appreciated if presented as if a skit on Benny Hill's old television show.

Aquila's production of "Comedy of Errors," now playing at the La Jolla Playhouse, is an odd bird indeed – never disrespectful to Shakespeare, but as different a take on his work as you could dream up.

Full of primary colors and simple lines, the set and costumes are abstract bordering on absurd, and minimalist to the bone. Visually, this production hews closer to what one images for Samuel Beckett than Shakespeare – think of it as a cross between Benny Hill and "Waiting for Godot."

Comedy of Errors The staging is equally stylized – the actors' movements are highly exaggerated, almost slapstick. There are definite traces of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton here.

The dialogue isn't messed with too much; Shakespeare's Elizabethan language is left alone – although the opening scene that sets up the whole story (two sets of identical twins separated at sea as infants) is performed as pantomime, and can be confusing if you're not already familiar with the story.

So what to make of all this?

Purists are unlikely to care for it, that's for sure. And whether it will make Shakespeare more accessible for mass consumption is equally unclear.

But open-minded fans of Shakespeare may well enjoy this different take. It's a bit bizarre at times, and occasionally difficult to follow.

At the same time, Aquila Theatre Co. is loyal to Shakespeare – they come to praise him, not mock him. It's just that they praise him in their own, very distinct, way.

Jim Trageser is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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