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Monday, 19 March 2012 22:14

Slap shtick

Written by Bob Wilcox
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Slap shtick
repstl.org / Jerry Naunheim Jr.

So you're directing a script by a young playwright who obviously has a feel for what works on stage, for how to build a scene, how to set things up for physical comedy.

He's reached back many many years to lift a script from one of his predecessors about a pair of twins who were separated at birth and who wind up, unknown to each other, in the same city, where they keep being mistaken for each other and are expected to know what was said and done to the other one the last time they met. A comedy of errors, over and over.

Your playwright was smart enough to double the confusion by giving the twins servants who are also twins. Other than that, you don't have a whole lot to work with.

The play is The Comedy of Errors. The playwright is William Shakespeare. Trust me, if this play didn't have his name on it, you'd never see it on a stage today.

What director Paul Mason Barnes has done at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is to take this text and use it, as intended, as a basis for lots of very funny, precisely performed physical comedy. Three Stooges, meet William Shakespeare.

Barnes sets his production in 1930s New Orleans – or a suburb thereof called Ephesus. It's Mardi Gras. When else? Erik Paulson's set reproduces the French Quarter. Costume designer Margaret E. Weedon gets to have fun with Mardi Gras masquerade outfits as well as 1930s fashions. Musical director Jack Forbes Wilson – no mean actor himself as he presides at his piano on an upper floor with a lamp obviously from a bordello – writes some music and arranges a lot more. You recognize the tune, though the words may have changed. Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz lights for comedy and confusion (of the characters, not us), and Rusty Wandall adds local sounds.

The young playwright, unfortunately, starts his play with a long speech by the father of the twins, who is traveling the world looking for them, in which he tells us everything we need to know about him and his sons and their separation. What a dull way to start a play. But director Barnes has a marvelous actor named Lenny Wolpe to deliver this speech. Not only does he look great for the role, tired and worn and a little stooped, but he actually makes this speech interesting and emotionally involving.

Then we're off and running. The twin servants especially, played by Doug Scholz-Carlson and Christopher Gerson, never stop running – except when their master – and it can be either master – is beating them. Chris Mixon and Michael Fitzpatrick are the masters. Tarah Flanagan is a delightful Southern belle as the wife of the local twin, and she manages to make the character attractive when she often is played as a shrew or a pitiful victim. Kate Fonville plays her sister, shyly flirtatious. Shanara Gabrielle adds confusion as a courtesan with connections to the local twin; she sings too. Another great singer, Tina Fabrique, is an abbess -- and more than that, as it turns out.

Walter Hudson plays the duke (mayor, that would be) and Aaron Orion Baker is his police force. Jim Poulos plays a goldsmith who delivers a chain to the wrong twin and tries to get payment from the right twin. The goldsmith owes money to another merchant played by Ryan Fonville. Christopher Hickey takes on two roles, one of each gender. Jerry Vogel takes on the medical profession. Evan Fuller and Kurt Hellerich harvest laughs as a pair of happy servants.

Adrianna Jones, Dakota Mackey-McGee, Thomas Eric Morris, Joey Otradovec, and Christina Ramirez, all Webster Conservatory students playing Mardi Gras revelers and Ephesian citizens, add to the fun.

And it is fun. Have a drink, or two or three, and enjoy.

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