St. Louis Shakespeare's commitment to the language and intent of the Bard's folio is ever-present in the company's productions, even when the original script has been trimmed.
This tightly edited version and spirited prologue, the work of metteur en scene Alec Wild and director Jef Awada, speeds through the exposition effortlessly and shortens the overall production significantly. The result is a laugh-out-loud funny and faced-paced show that provides all the satisfaction of Shakespeare in a fraction of the time.
The story gets off to a rather straightforward start: two sets of identical twins are born on the same day. The wealthy father of one pair buys the other twins as servants for his sons. Caught in a storm at sea, the paired boys are separated from each other when the boat capsizes, with one child from each pair saved by the mother and father of the wealthy twins.
Each parent fears the other is dead, as well as the children, and the father renames the surviving boys in honor of the two presumably lost at sea with his wife. At the story's open, the pair raised with the father, and now named Antipholus and Dromio, arrives in the town where their surviving brothers, the original Antipholus and Dromio, reside. Confusion and hilarity ensues.
The set, consisting of scaffolding, rolling ladders and a single doorway, is a whimsical choice that keeps the focus clearly on the language and action. The ladders, in particular, are used to great effect, gliding quickly across the stage at the actors command and providing various visual levels that add interest and movement to the show. Such sparse stage dressing emphasizes the actors and script, and the company does not disappoint.
Rather than casting identical twins or two actors who resemble each other, St. Louis Shakespeare features Christopher LaBanca and Ben Watts as the twins Antipholus and Dromio. This single casting heightens the comedic effect, leading to clever staging and outrageously funny moments, particularly during the play's denouement. Both actors handle the challenge well, and Watts is clearly the engine that drives this show.
Watts' Dromio is constantly in motion and limitlessly expressive in his role as servant to LaBanca's Antipholus. He never walks but scurries or runs with boundless energy across the stage, quickly climbing up and around the ladders and scaffolding, then sliding or popping in to place just as he needs to deliver a line.
The effect is marvelously frenetic and funny, yet never uncontrolled. Watts' sense of timing and ability to deliver his lines in a clear, distinct fashion while seemingly out of breath is also commendable. At times I felt like I needed to catch my breath just watching him.
The rest of the cast is equally impressive, albeit at a slightly slower pace than Watts. LaBanca respects the serious nature of his character while giving Antipholus a subtle charm and light touch that provides an excellent counterpoint to the dervish-like Watts.
Maggie Conroy, as Adriana the wife, and Julia Crump, as her sister Luciana, round out the leading roles and nicely complement Watts and LaBanca. Conroy and Crump handle the language expertly and their scenes together sparkle with wit. Moving at a less frantic pace, their scenes flow easily and gracefully rather than gushing forth. The capable ensemble features Nikki Lott, Andrew Kuhlman, Shane Bosillo and Andrew Rea.
The company succeeds in finding every kernel of humor in an action-packed production that charms and delights from prologue to curtain call. Clever bits, such as having ensemble member Kuhlman provide on-stage sound effects, enhance the comedy and keep audiences watching for other funny touches. Running at just over an hour, this production distills the story's essence and delivers it with a forceful comedic punch.