We attended two pay what you will performances of "The Comedy of Errors" to open the 2011 Actors' Renaissance Season at the Blackfriars Playhouse. In 2009, we saw the Rough, Rude and Boisterous touring troupe's version of "The Comedy of Errors," so that production was fresh in my mind. I'm not sure which version I prefer. Both were excellent, though this one seemed to have a lot more "emphasis added" humor to Shakespeare's shortest and most slapstick play.
This production is contemporary whereas the previous production was set in the original time period. The whole play (with the exception of the oddly tragic opening scene) is a slapstick farce with the classic mistaken identity theme played to the hilt. Tyler Moss and Greg Phelps are fantastic as the Dromios. They play them more as clowns than Dennis Henry and Rick Blunt did in 2009. Moss and Phelps employ lots of physical comedy in their roles. Their masters, the Antipholi, are played by John Harrell and Patrick Midgley, respectively. Harrell is at his frustrated best, and Midgley is impressive as the more confused, stranger in town. Be sure to watch for how other characters differentiate between the two- very funny. Two performances in lesser roles very nearly stole the show for me. Chris Johnston, who I believe is one of the best performers at the ASC, is fantastic as the Geisha inspired Courtesan (and is a sharp dressed man as the offended and calming merchant Balthazar). The other show stealer is Jeremy West as the doughnut eating Officer. I had never seen West before and I thought he did a fantastic job. I look forward to seeing him in the meatier role of Richard, Duke of York in "Henry VI, Part 3." Benjamin Curns, as always, is flawless in the dramatic role of Egeon. He sports a nice suit as well (made by ASC Costume Designer Erin West for a 2007 production of Winter's Tale and brought back to life for this role). Sarah Fallon and Miriam Donald are terrific as Adriana and Luciana. Throughout the play Miriam has one of those "always worried, always concerned" looks that had me kind of cracking up. Also watch for Allison Glenzer's fantastic cameo as "Fat Nell," it will have you rolling.
The pre-show and interlude music was fantastic, though a bit short at this point (the troupe is still learning songs, I imagine, they'd only had three days of rehearsals to get this production going). Songs include John Sebastian's "Welcome Back," made famous in "Welcome Back, Kotter," Weezer's "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To," Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine," Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," and an excellent rendition of Walter Egan's "Magnet and Steel."
The Actors' Renaissance Season continues with John Marston's "The Malcontent," opening January 20.