Theater Review - Identity Theft

Costumes steal the show in Comedy of Errors

Few plot twists strain disbelief more than the twins separated at birth. Shakespeare demonstrated his theatrical genius by getting away with two sets of misplaced twins in The Comedy of Errors.

You've got two identical aristocrats named Antipholus and their equally similar servants named Dromio. Though raised in different places, one day the Antipholus-Dromio pair from Syracuse visits the warring city of Ephesus, unaware they're in the hometown of their spitting images. Hijinks ensue.

In Georgia Shakespeare's production, the plot basically provides the scaffold for the company's crazed carnival of invention. Director Richard Garner and the cast don't exactly ignore the text, but Shakespeare's words prove practically superfluous when surrounded by such outlandish trappings. The Comedy of Errors amounts to a so-so source for laughter, but an impressive evening of eye candy.

In a burst of noise and color worthy of Cirque du Soleil, the cast enters as a clownish marching band, complete with belly dancers and a guy on stilts, to incorporate the curtain speech into the festive action. Though Comedy of Errors features some inspired players, costume designer Sydney Roberts demonstrates such an unhinged imagination, she emerges as the real star.

Imagine a burlesque show staged in a Mediterranean disco in the 1970s and you get just an inkling of the outfits. The costumes reveal some surprisingly kinky notions: As a hula-hooping courtesan, Park Krausen dresses like a go-go dancer-turned-dominatrix. Rob Cleveland's quack physician wears mad scientist gear and a Don King hairdo, while his nubile assistants' breasts bear swirling, hypnotic discs, suitable for some kind of "naughty nurses" website. Georgia Shakespeare should hang onto Roberts before Madonna whisks her away.

Comedy of Errors could be a visual history of clowning. As Antipholus from Syracuse, Chris Kayser sports curly black hair, glasses and a painted mustache a la Groucho Marx, while Chris Ensweiler's Dromio, with his undersized check suit and flaxen hair, could have stumbled off a vaudeville stage. For their "mirror" versions, the program credits two out-of-town players who look so much like Kayser and Ensweiler, it's as though the local actors are playing both parts. (Hint, hint.)

To emphasize the twins' "Twilight Zone"-style predicament, musician Klimchak employs a theremin, a quirky instrument that gave unearthly moans to 1950s sci-fi films and provides the play's funniest running joke. But Errors' pop homages and sound effects can feel overly fussy. When Antipholus and Dromio engage in low-impact versions of "The Three Stooges'" shtick, punctuated by Klimchak's clanging percussion, it's like seeing somebody's graduate thesis on physical comedy, rather than just the pratfalls.

The show's shrewdest actors play underneath the nuttiness rather than compete with it.

Crystal Dickinson, as Antipholus' jealous, increasingly confused wife, yells and gesticulates through some fitfully amusing tantrums. Playing her mousy, self-conscious sister, Courtney Patterson holds our attention with clever little character traits. Pirates may duel with funk musicians at center stage, but our eyes drift to how Patterson nervously toys with her swizzle stick or flirtatiously yanks off her kitchen glove.

Romances bloom and long-lost family members reunite, but the crucial relationships belong to the Dromios and their bosses. Almost subliminally, The Comedy of Errors illustrates the symbiotic nature of labor relations. We have two sets of masters and servants who've been together literally since birth. When they get mixed up and communications break down, anarchy follows.

Kayser reaches comical heights of indignation and Ensweiler whines with amusing victimhood. But despite the bickering, neither Antipholus could survive without his Dromio. For all the razzle-dazzle Georgia Shakespeare puts on display, we come away from The Comedy of Errors mostly struck by how the working and ruling classes, for all their hostility, are bound at the hip.