There's Something About Shakespeare

Perhaps one sign of true theatrical genius is the indestructibility of a text. No matter where it is performed -- whether in a high school, on a fully-equipped and technically tricked-out professional stage, or in a public park peppered with the interruptions of passers-by, the writing consistently delivers a certain level of enjoyment. Despite its wafer-thin plot, William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors is that kind of play. The strength of the source material is fortunate, for Boomerang Theatre Company's current production in Central Park has little else to recommend it. The Comedy of Errors, one of Shakespeare's early plays, is adapted from two Roman comedies by Plautus: Menaechmi, a play about two identical twins who are mistaken for each other, and Amphitryon, which features identical servants with the same name. In Shakespeare's adaptation, two sets of twins – conveniently, pairs of masters and servants who both go by the names of Antipholus and Dromio – are separated in infancy in a storm at sea. Twice the twins means twice the opportunities for mayhem-inducing mix-ups. When the grown-up Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse arrive in Ephesus in search of their long lost siblings, they are mistaken for their brothers, who are local residents, involving everyone in legal and romantic troubles. Even after four hundred years, the punchy comic patter and rhymed couplets are delightful.

Director Philip Emeott has collected a cast of wildly varying talent. His strongest performances come from Jon Dykstra and Steven Beckingham as the Dromios of Ephesus and Syracuse, respectively. The pair look eerily identical in matched costumes designed by Carolyn Pallister, yet their performances are vocally and physically distinctive from one another. Their scenes are the highlights of the production. Likewise, Michael Alan Read makes an impression as the slightly oily and obsequious goldsmith, Angelo, who ends up on the wrong end of the law thanks to the brothers' mistaken identities. Walter J. Hoffman gives a gloriously over the top, Addams Family-inspired rendition of the creepy Dr. Pinch, who tries to exorcise the confused Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus.

Too bad the other members of the cast are not nearly as strong. Sarah Hankins as Adriana, the disappointed wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, performs the role as an enraged harpy, throwing away any attempt at nuance; the meaning of her words is lost in a cacophony of noise, exasperated sighs, and growls of rage. Emily King Brown's Luciana is pleasant but bland as she tries to calm her sister and repulse the amorous advances of the man she believes is her brother-in-law. Neither woman seems to empathize much with their characters' predicaments, which – while comical – are also poignant.

Emeott has staged The Comedy of Errors on a hillside near the 69th Street and Central Park West entrance to the park. Geographically, the setting is interesting; its jutting rocks create a two-level playing space with a green hillside in the background and a dirt patch in front. The hillside, which masks the backstage area, creates the opportunity for the dramatic, long entrances which Emeott used effectively to introduce each scene. Unfortunately, Emeott rarely takes full advantage of the space's natural levels, often lining his actors up in the foreground. Curiously, the only characters who ever feel an urge to kneel or crawl on the ground are those costumed in shorts or short skirts, a detail which seems mighty convenient.

Boomerang Theatre Company's production of The Comedy of Errors skates by on the strength of its text, which is charming even when performed by an inconstant company. For those who come across the production on a weekend in the park, or watch it with the kids over a picnic lunch, it's diverting enough. At the same time, the production is disappointing: it has no heart. With all the theatrical richness of New York City, Shakespeare could be handled so much better.

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