ASP’s ‘Comedy’ is clever, fun, always entertaining
BRIGHTON — Sometimes, theater companies that perform Shakespeare seem paralyzed and straight-jacketed by the text, unable to move off a narrow interpretation of the piece.
Not the Actors Shakespeare Project. For the peripatetic (a 10-cent word meaning they like to move around a lot) ASP, the text is the starting point for sometimes wondrous things that while The Bard himself never dreamed of, he would applaud if he were alive today.
Case in point: The ASP’s current production of “The Comedy of Errors” at the Brighton High School auditorium.
Part of the troupe’s mission statement is to bring Shakespeare to the inner-city, and after a run at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester last year, it finds itself at Brighton High, where it is also in residency in an after-school program exploring the world of circus arts.
The building was completed and opened in 1931, and while the auditorium has been renovated since, it has a hint of faded glory that actually works well with the piece.
“The Comedy of Errors” is a slapstick piece about two sets of twins, setting the stage for multiple occasions of mistaken identity. The Bard upped the ante by making sure each pair of twins have the same name, Antipholus for the masters and Dromio for the servants.
They were separated in a shipwreck shortly after birth. Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse have ventured to Ephesus in search of their twins, and there is chaos after the Ephesian Antipholus’s wife, Adriana, mistakes the Syracusan Antipholus for her husband. In the end, the two Antipholi are reunited with their father, Egeon, and their mother, Emilia.
While some productions use actual twins to portrays the characters, this piece has gone in a opposite direction , and the twins that Director David Gammons has playing the Antipholi — Jesse Hinson and Omar Robinson — are white and black, respectively. The Dromios — Eddie Shields and Susan McGinnis — are male and female.
Gammons has reimagined “The Comedy of Errors” through the prism of a theatrical company populated by carnival sideshow characters. His take has the ragtag theatrical troupe struggling to complete a run-through of the “The Comedy of Errors.”
A program insert informs us the piece is being performed by “Snoo” and “Snee,” “The Amazing Siamese Twins,” and their “Traveling Siyd Show Sircus.”
As the cast members portray sideshow characters, they also take on the Shakespearean characters as well. Thus carnival performer Archie Snerd (Richard Snee) also portrays the characters of Egeon and Luciana, complete with women’s clothes and a manic wig, switching genders on a moment’s notice, and he is attached at the hip to the other “Siamese Twin,” Sarah Newhouse, who plays Solinus and Adriana. It works fine until all of the characters have to be on stage at the same time.
If you’re new to the show, you might want to consult a plot summary in a bid to keep things straight.
Cameron Cronin reigns over the madcap mess as the director, interrupting at will but frequently falling short when to comes to delivering his own lines.
It’s all great fun, endlessly clever and never less than wonderfully entertaining.
Gammons has also contributed the set design, an eclectic mess of a rehearsal space teeming with mismatched odds and ends. The company lacks the appropriate props and makes some hilarious choices as stand-ins. It gets interactive; at one point, an audience member’s bag is borrowed since the troupe lacks the proper prop. There are also multiple pop culture references.
The carnival/circus-themed outfits by Gail Astrid Buckley are just right — down to the clown shoes Paige Clark as “Melissa Bigfoot” must have stolen from a traveling circus.
The lighting by Jeff Adelberg is simply wonderful, with bare bulbs and backlighting, evoking the faded glory of the sideshow troupe.
Gammons’ take on “The Comedy of Errors” is just right for the theater-goer fearful of Shakespeare, concerned that the Elizabethan language will make the piece unfathomable.
With this most accessible take, it’s very likely they’ll have just as much fun as the performers.
The Actors Shakespeare Project’s production of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” Directed by David Gammons. Set design by David Gammons. Lighting by Jeff Adelbert. Costumes by Gail Astrid Buckley . Sound by David Wilson. Stage Manager: L. Arkansas Light. At the Brighton High School Auditorium, 25 Warren St., Brighton, through Oct. 19. Actorsshakespeareproject.org.