The title of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors is today a catch phrase for situations when things go wrong. But everything is going right at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company with this delirious compendium of amusing characters and unlikely situations driven by mistaken identities involving a pair of long-separated but wholly identical twins. Cincy Shakes has established a tradition of presenting a jolly classic for the beginning of the holidays, and this one is a laugh riot.
Guest director Patrick Flick sets his staging in a fanciful carnival town, populated with oddball sideshow creatures — a bearded lady, a half-man, half-woman, an acrobat and so on. Most of the characters are dressed as if it’s America in the 1930s. The stage is hung with circus posters. Thunderclaps underscore double takes when mysterious coincidences occur. Flick has his actors push Shakespeare’s wordplay to the extreme, forcing rhymes and double-entendres. He also employs a clever device for asides (remarks by a character directly to the audience) announcing them with a ring of chimes, freezing the surrounding actors, momentarily darkening the stage and spotlighting the speaker.
The production is well cast, especially with Jeremy Dubin and Paul Riopelle as the Dromios, the comic servants. Both of diminutive stature and costumed identically, the pair constantly mirror one another’s actions and physicality. As their masters, both named Antipholus, Justin McCombs and Josh Katawick are also similarly dressed (a few details differ) but their natures differ: McCombs’ twin is sweeter, astonished at the coincidences unfolding, while Katawick’s Antipholus is darker, more frustrated. Shakespeare multiplied unlikely circumstances to the tale, and they play out magically as the story culminates.
Miranda McGee turns in an irascible performance as the wife of one of the twin masters, delivering a ramped-up monologue of irritation with her husband’s inexplicable behavior in the first act (it’s his confused twin, of course) that generated applause on opening night. Billy Chace is a magician-cum-goldsmith whose over-the-top appearance (dressed in a white suit and an extravagant purple cape) is matched by his silly entrances and exits.
The opening night audience loved this production from start to finish — commiserating with momentary twists and missed opportunities for love among some minor characters, sighing occasionally and laughing constantly. I expect that will continue for show’s run.
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through Dec. 13.