MADISON, NJ – The amphitheatre at St. Elizabeth College in Convent Station is a perfect setting for the fast-paced, ribald Shakespearean play, “The Comedy of Errors.”
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is now performing its 11th season at the Greek amphitheatre. for putting on a free-wheeling production, often Shakespeare, but other classics as well. Despite airplanes, fireworks, rain or come what may, the actors carry on with aplomb.
Opening night this year brought a burst of unexpected fireworks just as Act II was underway. Finally, the actors had no choice but to stand there and admire them along with the audience. In fact, one audience member started to sing the national anthem and just about everyone joined in.
But those unanticipated disruptions are what makes these productions such fun. Actors are rushing up and down the aisles, the sky gradually darkens and picnic baskets have been put away as the magic of theatre weaves its spell. It’s almost like being in the days when this was the only entertainment around. These outdoor performances are also a great way for children to be introduced to the classics.
“The Comedy of Errors,” like so much of the Bard’s lighter fare, hinges on mistaken identities. In this case, the twins, Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse were separated at birth, along with their servants, each named Dromio. (They’re all twins.) When one son arrives from Syracuse, he is mistaken for the other by his wife and everyone else. This leads to all sorts of fantastic situations. Matthew Simpson is the Syracuse brother, while Philip Mutz is the successful Ephesus son. Their servants, Jack Moran playing the Syracuse Dromio and Sean Hudock, the Ephesus one, keep colliding.
There’s a nifty stylized quality to this production, with both servants reminiscent of Charlie Chapin in their walks, hats and manner.
Amanda Duffy and Allison Layman are the two love interests, with Adriana mistaking the wrong twin for her husband. He, of course, falls for her sister, Luciana.
As the cast carouses and scurries across the stage, there’s never a dull moment. But it’s all straightened out in the end. The parents find each other after years apart and all is forgiven.
The play is directed with verve by Jason King Jones, costumes by Nancy Leary, scenic design by Charlie Calvert and lighting by Rachel A. Miner. As the sky darkens, we see lights come on in the Italian villas on the set and there is much made of a rowboat, a plank across a river and other touches that add to the bedlam.
You couldn’t have more fun than an evening with this delightful cast in a bucolic setting. “The Comedy of Errors” continues through July 29. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.
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