Wednesday night, the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival opened its season with “The Comedy of Errors,” a predictably great production for a company that has yet to produce a dud under the leadership of Matt Wallace, who is beginning his fifth summer in Central Park.
The production has all the things we’ve become accustomed to: returning regulars, beloved locals, some new faces to keep it all fresh, and that glorious tree that has, since last summer, become a focal point for the stage of the C. Douglass Ramey Amphitheater.
While the production easily offers an enjoyable night under the stars, it’s hard not to notice that “Comedy of Errors” just isn’t Shakespeare’s best work. It’s something of a one-trick pony — there are these two guys who look like each other, and people confuse them. Therefore, high jinks.
“Errors” also is one of the plays in which Shakespeare’s dialogue often utilizes heroic couplets, split between characters trying to one-up each other with their cleverness. Here, it’s a device that gets old quick.
I can academically appreciate the skill of a little feminine end-rhyme, and it was the height of wit 400 years ago. But in a world where rhyming has been owned by everyone from Busta Rhymes to Aesop Rock, from Kendrick Lamar to — dare I say it — Lin-Manuel Miranda, the couplet is not in and of itself quite as impressive.
Still, even Shakespeare’s worst comedy is hilarious when performed correctly, and “Comedy of Errors” certainly isn’t Shakespeare’s worst. (I’m looking at you, “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”)
The action here centers on two sets of twins — separated at birth so that dueling sets live in different cities (Syracuse and Ephesus) — each containing a master named Antipholus and a slave named Dromeo.
As the Antipholi, Crystian Wiltshire and Shaleen Cholera have the chance to go big and get silly.
Wiltshire has taken point on several of Kentucky Shakespeare shows, but even in the comedies, he hasn’t really been let loose to go full-on goofy. He’s up to the challenge, ranting and yelling in a consternation gleeful in its gusto. He looks like he’s having a ball, and that joie de vivre infects the audience.
Cholera has mostly been seen in smaller roles, and it’s really nice to see him stretch his wings. His Antipholus is comically angry, so he’s of a choleric humor. In addition to setting up that truly unforgivable pun, his choice to go nasty makes for a nice contrast to the relatively carefree attitude of his Syracusian counterpart.
Kentucky Shakespeare stalwarts Neill Robertson and Tony Milder have a physical type so similar that it seemed somewhat inevitable they would eventually play twins. As dueling Dromeos, the slaves of the Antipholi, they fulfill that destiny and do so with the generous amount of skill and creativity we’ve come to expect from each.
But do note the word slave above. At risk of sounding like a tut-tutting fun killer, I have to admit the constant beating of the Dromeos, who were purchased into slavery at birth, was a little less funny to me than it was last time I saw this play. Blame it on Roseanne tweets in the news, actual Nazis running around, and the 45 other upsetting examples of egregious racism we see in the news every day.
Still, the comedic chops of Robertson and Milder are undeniable.
As is often the case at Kentucky Shakespeare, there are too many standout performances to list them all. Jon O’Brien hamming it up as a particularly dull officer; Abigail Bailey Maupin as Antipholus of Ephesus’ shrewish wife, Adriana; Jon Huffman as erstwhile wizard Pinch — really there isn’t a single performance that isn’t stellar, but I’ll include two more special shout-outs.
Shakespeare newcomer Ernaisja Curry is a most welcome addition, and she does a lot with a little. As the second-string love interest Luciana, she’s full of personality and pluck, owning her half of the multiple scenes she plays with Maupin. No mean feat, as Maupin is basically perfect in everything.
(My pro-Maupin status is well-documented. #TeamMaupin)
Curry navigates the swing back and forth from sweet to saucy to swooning excellently. I’m hoping we get to see Curry in a role with a little more meat sooner rather than later.
J. Barrett Cooper often is used on stage for his gravitas, and even in comedies he is more of a reserved wordplay kind of guy. Here as Angelo, the goldsmith, his camp is turned up to 11, and it’s a sight to see. More of this, please.
Indeed, the entire show seems to be turned up a notch or two from Wallace’s usual comedic offerings. Not that it’s generally reserved — Shakespeare didn’t traffic in reserved comedies — but a lot of the action in “Errors” bordered on a Looney Tunes level of zaniness, which was as fun to watch as one imagines it must be to perform.
This production of “Errors” is, as said, a great evening of theater, but it does suggest that at some point, the Wallace-led Kentucky Shakespeare is going to start bumping against the limitations of the Bard’s canon …
… which leads to the rather awesome news Wallace announced that this fall the company will go outside the Shakespeare canon for its Halloween show when they produce “War of the Worlds,” the 80-year-old radio drama that sparked a UFO panic when it first aired. (#FakeNews)
Personally, as long as we still get plenty of Shakespeare in each season, let’s say three out of five, I’d welcome more consistent explorations outside the Bard’s work. I’d love to see more Greek plays, maybe some Wilde or Molière. I mean, what kind of deal does a guy have to make to get a production of Faust?
“The Comedy of Errors” continues through June 10, and then returns on July 11 to run in repertory with “Henry IV Part 1” and “Othello.” All shows are free and start at 8 p.m., with a preshow at 7:30 p.m. Central Park is located at 1340 S. Fourth St.