Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

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

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review is in for Arkansas Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors"

— The Bard would breathe easy at the Arkansas Shakespeare Festival’s Comedy of Errors - provenance is given short shrift.

No, this production is a mixed bag of 17th-century story and 19th-century American Old West set pieces; costumes that range from three-piece suit to busty form-fitting sweater to argyle sweater; a beat cop, a nun, a man in drag?

Director Andrew Hamm threw everything in the old playbook out but the lines and the jocund intent and scored big. Not only is the festival’s Comedy of Errors a salutatory show, it makes a wonderful introduction to Shakespearean theater for those in need of it.

The play itself is a case of mistaken identities, the looptyloop arc of identical twin brothers and their identical twin servants, trying to find one another after many years. The situation is urgent because the brothers’ father faces execution at nightfall.

The production brims with howling slapstick and some surprise camp, then manages to finish on a tender moment. Between, the acting is off-pitch in only a scant place or two, and Josh Rice (the servant Dromio) is uproarious. His rubbery frame and spasmodic reactions are reminiscent of Jerry Lewis.

Shakespeare may be timeless but his comedies depend so much on reaching their audience, and Comedy of Errors, for all the puerile laughs, is a challenging one for its language. Exchanges that lean on “pate” and “sconce” wordplay just don’t sink quickly into our thick ... pates and sconces. So Hamm has encouraged his players to act out many of the lines, and it’s great fun to follow along.

“It’s really an artifact of English classes that we treat Shakespeare like a book instead of a play,” he says. “Trust that we know what we’re doing, and that we’ll get the story across to you, I promise.”

The show can be seen at 7:30 p.m. today at the Reynolds Performance Center at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway ($20 general admission, $10 for students), at 2 p.m. Sunday (a “pay-what-you-can” show) or at 2 p.m. July 3.




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