Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors is an odd gem of a play. As one of his earlier comedies, it’s rife with MacGuffins, mistaken identities, and slapstick comedy. It also has far too many rhyming couplets and a set up so complex and over-the-top that it resulted in the longest monologue Shakespeare had ever written. Still, The Comedy of Errors is one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, and I’ve seen more productions of it than any other play.
The Comedy of Errors is the latest of Shakespeare’s offerings that is now playing at the Public Theater, courtesy of its Mobile Unit program. After spending three weeks touring correctional facilities, shelters, and community organizations all over the five boroughs, the Mobile Unit finishes its run with a residency at the Public. It’s important to keep in mind the Mobile Unit’s mission, as it’s inherent in every part of the production. A cast of seven actors change hats—literally—to play more than double the amount of characters. Props and costumes are vibrant and detailed, but still minimal and portable enough to change from scene to scene… and performance to performance. (In some cases, certain items, like wigs or a tube of lipstick, don’t even make it past prison security for those stops on the Mobile Unit’s tour.) The cast itself is diverse, with performers of different sizes and shades, resembling a typical New York City street more than, say, that all-white Wars of the Roses revival that just finished playing in London. Though all of these elements are tweaked and trimmed to fit the nature of Mobile Unit’s production, Shakespeare’s narrative still shines through.
The Comedy of Errors follows two sets of twins as they are separated at sea. Each Antipholus (Bernardo Cubría), accompanied by his servant Dromio (Lucas Caleb Rooney) end up in different citites; one in Ephesus, and one in Syracuse. When Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse enter Ephesus, they are mistaken for their Ephesian counterparts, causing all kinds of confusion for Adriana (Christina Pumariega), Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife, and Luciana (Flor De Liz Perez), Adriana’s sister. The Antiphol-i and Dromio’s are not exempt from the resulting chaos, encountering a scheming courtesan (Zuzanna Swadkowski), a strange abbess (also Zuzanna Swadkowski), and a debt-collecting goldsmith (David Ryan Smith) before they finally discover their brothers—and a happy ending, of course.
Like I mentioned earlier, The Comedy of Errors isn’t a perfect play. But it’s a delightful one, and director Kwame Kwei-Armah taps into that fun in this production. Ephesus and Syracuse are now border towns not unlike the southwestern cities along the United States/Mexican border. Leather belts and denim work shirts are staples for the Antiphol-i and Dromio’s, while Adriana and Luciana are visions in turquoise. I was especially amused by Adriana’s Real Housewife-esque styling, complete with a bright orange dress, a bouffant wig, and a bedazzled wine glass. The border town placement is not just a fun design element, though. As the Duchess of Ephesus delivers her ruling on an errant border-crosser, she does so wearing a baseball cap that coyly reads, “Make Ephesus Great Again” and waving a fan that has Donald Trump’s face on it. I don’t think the intent was to make a huge statement on a political issue, but I found it to be a clever way to contextualize the Ephesus/Syracuse conflict with a knowing wink to the audience.
The performances are also top-notch. Bernardo Cubría as the Antiphol-i has a constant charisma coursing through his characters, along with a constant state of wide-eyed befuddlement. Christina Pumariega’s Adriana is one of the best I’ve ever seen, combining the reality-show worthy hysterics we typically see in her character with a grounded sense of self that was refreshing to see. Zuzanna Swadkowski is the MVP of playing more than one character, giving every role an amusing specificity.
If these aren’t enough reasons for you to check out The Comedy of Errors (though they should), it’s worth a visit just to hear Shakespearean verse done in a Southern accent. Now that’s an odd gem in of itself.