Reviews Off-Broadway Published 25 March 2011

The Comedy of Errors

BAM Harvey Theatre ⋄ 16th March – 27th March 2011

The all-male Propeller company takes on mistaken identity.

Richard Patterson
The Comedy of Errors

Mariachi Shakespeare. Photo: Manuel Harlan.

It’s in the play’s title; Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors is undeniably funny and, consequently, a popular choice for companies looking to put a new spin on a classic text. It’s a pleasure to witness the return of Propeller, the popular U.K.-based all-male Shakespeare troupe, to New York, even if its latest production represents a case of style’s being valued over substance.

The play follows the arc of a typical farce. A Syracusan merchant, Aegeon, finds himself persecuted for trespassing in the Greek city of Ephesus, facing execution because of his land of origin; he reveals to the Duke of Ephesus that he’d fathered two identical twin sons who had two identical twin servants. Each pair was separated in a storm.

When Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuase arrive in Ephesus, a series of romantic mishaps leave them the worse for wear as the two discover they each have an identically-named counterpart twin living in Ephesus. Wives find themselves mistaking their husbands; goods are exchanged and the related transactions are seemingly forgotten at the blink of an eye.

It’s a silly plot, mostly free from the social contexts that others of Shakespeare’s plays explore. Though the frothiness of the play makes it conducive to looser interpretations, Propeller’s take on the text walks the line between injecting the play with a modern aesthetic and weighing it down with too much shtick.

The monologue-heavy first scene starts the play off sluggishly, hampered by John Dougall’s delivery as Aegeon. From thence forward, Propeller’s results are a mixed bag. Karate chops and nunchuks abound. The conjurer, Pinch, becomes an evangelist-type preacher, replete with a showy gospel number (music is by Propeller, with additional arrangements and original music by Jon Trenchard).

The production’s strongest asset is director Edward Hall’s sensitivity to language. He’s adapted the play alongside Roger Warren, and, though changes to the text don’t seem absolutely necessary (nothing too substantial has been tweaked), what remains of Shakespeare’s dialogue is well represented here. Where expected line readings could abound, Hall keeps an audience on its toes rather than treating Shakespeare’s jokes as toss-aways. This approach brings a certain freshness to the table that can also, if it’s taken too far, bog the play down with its eagerness to please, as occasionally occurs here.

Of particular note in the cast are our Antipholuses, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Sam Swainsbury, and our Dromios, Richard Frame and Jon Trenchard. Each set of twins is individuated by matching brightly-colored costumes, and the pairs seem genuinely to match in demeanor.

Also fine are Robert Hands in the role of Adriana, Tony Bell as the energetic Pinch (an audience favorite), and David Newman as Luciana. Chris Myles is appropriately over-the-top as the boot-clad Lady Abbess, Aemilia.

Ultimately, though it’s not the strongest Comedy of Errors, Propeller’s production entertains consistently, for the most part well-paced by Hall. Though occasionally the production’s modern comedic take on the play distracts from the humor inherent in the text, it’s still worthwhile to watch Propeller spin Shakespeare on his head.

Richard Patterson

A graduate of New York University with a degree in Dramatic Literature, Richard was deputy theatre editor at from 2008-2011 and New York Editor of Exeunt from 2011-2016. He is excited to continue on as a contributor. With a penchant for Sondheim, the Bard, and Beckett, as well as for new writing, theatergoing highlights include Fiona Shaw's Winnie in "Happy Days," Derek Jacobi's Lear, Jonathan Pryce in "The Caretaker," and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello at the Donmar. Richard's criticism has been published in The Sondheim Review.

The Comedy of Errors Show Info

Directed by Edward Hall

Cast includes Tony Bell, Kelsey Brookfield, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, Wayne Cater, Richard Clothier, John Dougall, Richard Frame, Robert Hands, Chris Myles, David Newman, Thomas Padden, Sam Swainsbury, Dominic Tighe, John Trenchard

Original Music Propeller, additional arrangements and original music by Jon Trenchard

Show Details & Tickets

Running Time 2 hrs, 20 minutes (including one intermission)


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