Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Goode Olde Dayes

So apparently there's some big international sporting event going on today...

I always begin a directing process with a couple of script-inspired guiding concepts to shape the show. For Othello it was the dichotomy of Iago and his multiplicity of lies, inspiring the idea of him as an actual shape-changing demonic deceiver. For Doctor Faustus it was the show's prison-in-Hell concept, leading to Mephistophilis' childishly simple illusions and Faustus' own attachment to juvenile things. As You Like It started with the necessity to get four couples married at once with only five actors, with gender-bending and city-versus-country as the, er, touchstones (WOMP!). Last year's Midsummer was spurred by a sense of the faeries as godlike, ancient beings, far above the humans whose lives they so casually toyed with.

In the case of Comedy of Errors, the foundational ideas are "those were the good old days" and buddy comedy.

Comedy comes from a school of British literature following the mainland Renaissance's fascination with classical texts. Everything old was new, and old stories were hitting the bestseller lists again. Comedy of Errors is based on several original sources, primarily Plautus' The Menaechmi (a play that is hilarious in its own right). The idea swiftly became not an actual historical age of yore, but a fantastical one, made of a combination of:
  1. stories your grandfather used to tell about having to walk to school uphill against the wind both ways, 
  2. old movies like It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, and 
  3. Chuck Jones-directed Looney Tunes cartoons. 
We wouldn't create a realistic early-twentieth-century port town, we would create a fantasia of one that rings true emotionally without having to work factually. The combination of that idea and a realization of just how much Dromio and Antipholus are a comedy duo leading straight up to Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Reiner and Brooks, and Penn and Teller, formed the basis for the show. The rest proceeded from there.

Douglas Gilpin's beautiful set creates the corner of a town square (with a Civil War memorial statue inspired by Q-Tip Park in front of VCU's performing arts center), complete with all the mansion-style edifices the play requires to keep its Aristotelian unity of place (Comedy is the only one of Shakespeare's plays to do so, yet another acknowledgement of a "good old days" mentality in its writing). The tops of the buildings, however, are set at sightly skewed angles, establishing an environment above reality before the play even begins. My goal is that this will help take the edge off of the audience's perceptions of the violence, which is plentiful in the play; the script's most common stage direction is "Antipholus beats Dromio," and master-beats-servant just isn't so funny any more. We're shooting for slapstick and cartoony.

Here's the model:

The statue has actually moved from DR to DL, and has been replaced by a bench and a crate.

Shauna Meador took the era and idea and came forth with some of the most gorgeous costumes I have ever worked with. In many ways, working with Shauna is similar to working with Becky Cairns and Annie Hoskins, which is a fine compliment to all three ladies. The lines begin with glamorous shapes and textures from '30s cinema, with color temperature turned up high; I even joked early on that the color palate for many of the costumes was a pack of highlighters, and the expression has stuck. Dromio wears massively clashing argyles in fluorescent colors, Antipholus similar patterns but in softer colors.

Here's the duo rapping:

This picture doesn't do justice to the insane energy these two actors, Paul Saylor and Josh Rice, bring to the show.

Signing off for now to get ready for a music and vaudeville rehearsal.



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