There’s an argument to be made that the star of Seattle Shakespeare’s production of The Comedy of Errors is a ramp. Rarely has a slanted piece of wood provided so much comedic fodder. As part of an incredibly sparse set, the ramp connects to levels of the stage and becomes the focal point for a constant stream of physical jokes. The actors struggle in vain to walk or bike up it, fumble while trying to set up a dinner table on its incline, and playfully slide down its deceptively steep slope. While Shakespeare’s wordplay provides amusing moments throughout the show, this rendition of The Comedy of Errors at Seattle Repertory Theatre really serves as a masterclass in the art of physical comedy.
The story of The Comedy of Errors finds Antipholus of Syracuse (Jay Myers) and his servant Dromio (Arjun Pande) searching the Mediterranean for the family they were separated by a shipwreck when they were just boys. When they arrive in Ephesus, they duo receives a bizarrely warm welcome from the locals. Unbeknownst to them, their identical twin brothers Antipholus of Ephesus (David King Brown) and his servant Dromio (Kevin Kelly) both reside in the city. Things begin to get muddled when the Dromio of Euphesus runs into Antipholus of Syracuse and tells him that his wife Adriana (Linda K. Morris) is summoning him for dinner. So begins the path to mistaken identity mass confusion that includes business deals gone wrongs, fights, arrests, romance, and countless follies.
Physical comedy can get a bad rap due to the worst of its breed. One can usually tell when a new movie is going to terrible by the amount of absurd pratfalls and bodily trauma (blows to the head and/or privates) it crams into its trailer. That brand of comedy quickly turns tiresome and hacky. What director Jan Nichols expertly crafts in The Comedy of Errors is anything but that.
Gag after gleefully silly gag, the laughter remains constant throughout the show. There are elaborate bits, like when Antipholus of Syracuse prepares for a fight with a meticulous sword-readying routine that stretches on uninterrupted for at few hilarious minutes. Smaller gags like the Dromios running from beatings, climbing the pendulum of the set’s large clock, or unexpectedly swinging onto stage pepper in some comedic athleticism. And of course, there’s all the action on that superstar ramp. Heck, background gags—including a couple confused characters' fabulous reality-breaking trek around one of the set’s rolling doors—even provide laughs during relatively insignificant foreground dialogues.
On the acting side of the ledger, Meyers brings an electric charisma to the role of Antipholus of Syracuse. His sense of swashbuckling swagger and charm in the face of the madness surrounding him brings a vigor to all his scenes. Additionally, both Dromios (Pande and Kelly) fully sell each physical bit as they swing and scamper across the stage with flashy abandon. The pair’s resemblance is so striking (you can really only tell them apart by their sock color) that it indirectly undercuts the Antipholus twin confusion (sure, they’re wearing the same outfit, but nobody would Myers and King if they were in a police lineup).
Seattle’s 2015–16 theater season just got underway, but it’s unlikely that many (if any) comedies better than The Comedy of Errors will hit the local stage in the coming months. Don’t miss this superb showcase of physical humor at its best.
The Comedy of Errors
Thru Oct 11, Seattle Repertory Theatre, $31–$45