The absurdity of mistaken identities has never been so Portland before.
I, Estevan Munoz, was fortunate enough to be granted a free ticket last Friday night to the latest Post5 Theatre production, a re-imagining of one of Shakespeare’s earliest and lightest works, The Comedy of Errors. It is a joyously rambunctious adaptation, directed and adapted by Ty Boice, founding Post5 Theatre Artistic Director.
It is Shakespeare set in modern times, and even better yet, it takes place in the wonderful city of Portland’a, an obvious reference to Portland, Maine.
Just kidding. Comedy of Errors is set in our beloved City of Roses, and is perhaps a not-so-exaggerated comical maximization of it.
Now, for those who aren’t Shakespeare fans, or for those who are either yawning, cringing, or hurling their computer into a cement wall from fervent rage over the mere suggestion of viewing and/or reading the Bard’s dense plot lines of Shakespeare, perhaps reconsider that sentiment. This is a good production.
Though this version of Comedy of Errors still possesses that notorious aspect of Shakespearean language, too tongue-tied and witty for its own good, the cast and crew of this production do an impressive job translating the prickly prose of the play’s source material. It becomes a refreshingly accessible, relevant, and farcical take on our city.
For those not familiar with the original play, Comedy of Errors is a tale concerning two sets of identical twins that are accidentally separated at birth, and in a typical Shakespearean expression of fate, find themselves in the same city decades later, completely unbeknownst to one another. To add even more absurdity to this, the script throws in a profoundly bamboozled wife (Jessica Hillenbrand) and her sister (Heidi Hunder), who cannot tell their husbands or their man-servants (the two sets of twins) apart, leading to a hilarious fiasco of communication that builds and intensifies between everyone. All the while, mile-a-minute puns and gags about everything from penises to Voodoo Donuts whiz by faster than an over-fueled rocket ship propelled by silliness.
This production pulls no punches while indulging in the jokes and stereotypes that anyone living in Portland has grown to either accept or ignore, and perhaps these jokes are getting a tad redundant for some. But even with this in mind, Comedy of Errors takes Portland’s post-hippie strangeness and it’s plaid-shirt wearing or fixie-outing assortment of stereotypes and still makes it funny and urgent, which is quite a feat because the audience has essentially heard it all before.
Even more so, Comedy of Errors thankfully does not exist to only poke fun at the adorably (or tragically) self-aware City of Roses. It sidetracks the possibility of being ironically too aware of its own self-awareness (which is weird to think about, but happens a lot) and instead, focuses the majority of its energy on the actual production of the show.
I did not know what to expect going in, as this was my first Post5 Theater show, and despite a broken air conditioner that created a tad unbearably hot room (some actors were literally dripping with sweat), the dedication and professionalism of the craft was evident to me. Both sides of the talent (on and off the stage) succeeded in creating an immersive and entertaining production.
What I enjoyed most was the character work, which I found to be absolutely charming. The dynamic interactions between the myriad of characters was bolstered by a solid, palpable chemistry and was consistently hysterical. Particularly, the interactions between both sets of twins, who found themselves in a fundamentally confused dynamic of master/slave/best friend was endearing and hilarious.
The show is fast-paced in everything it does, yet somehow it is able to hold the audience’s attention, even in the classically long, drawn-out Shakespearean monologues which are relatively frequent. Even more impressive was the firm and exceptionally consistent grasp the actors have on their deliveries and speech, which is often a mouthful. The actors not only master the cadence, but they showcase talent beyond the ability to recite, exuding an intelligent understanding of the words, and why they were saying them.
On top of this, the actors displayed a tremendous sense of physicality and thus illuminated the importance the role of the body has in the medium of comedy theater. Chip Sherman, playing one of the twins, Antipholus of Elizabetha, absolutely excelled at all of the above, and for the majority of the play, he is the most magnetic performer to watch. He epitomized the entire production’s desired tone: absurdly heartfelt, confident, and hilarious.
The direction of this play succeeds in feeling both completely free-form yet meticulously staged. This is a play where the actors are literally rushing through multiple entrances and exits, outlining the perimeter of the set almost constantly, sprouting jokes and thoughts at a break-neck speed. Yet, it still manages to feel coherent.
The Comedy of Errors is a boisterously energetic, exuberant production that carries lively and memorable performances by a strong cast. It is a dense production and a bit much to take in with the amount of characters, but it can lead you to reconsider how you think about performers and their character counterparts.
The plot/dialogue may be incomprehensible sometimes, mainly due to its Shakespearean roots and the speed at which this production travels. Fortunately, this play can still be enjoyable if that’s the case. The performances are wild and confident, and their bodies demonstrate the characters’ dynamics almost as well as the words. I am looking forward to future productions from Post5 Theatre. These are very talented actors working with a crew that exudes professionalism and meticulous detail.
I still probably won’t read much Shakespeare though.
Comedy of Errors will be showing Friday-Sunday, now through June 27th.