Shakespeare’s early farce “The Comedy of Errors” seems to be everywhere right now. The four-man “Bomb-itty of Errors” is romping along merrily Off Broadway, Bay Area director Danny Scheie has helmed small-scale productions in Berkeley, Calif., and Seattle, and now Mark Brokaw has staged a briskly entertaining Arabian Nights view of it for the Hartford Stage. Brokaw & Co.’s a-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-Ephesus take on the play cleverly balances textual clarity with physical rough and tumble.
It’s not surprising that “Comedy” should bring “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” to mind: Both Shakespeare’s farce and the musical are based on plays by Plautus.
And just one look at the Courtesan (Ruth Gotschall) in this “Comedy,” in all her under-dressed, well-endowed glory, makes it obvious that she’d be equally at home in the musical.
As it happens, there’s a lot of music in this production. Lewis Flinn has supplied a rambunctious score that spicily mixes faux Middle Eastern touches with echoes of orientalia and the Caribbean, as do Neil Patel’s set and Kaye Voyce’s costumes.
Patel covers the stage floor with an elaborate, if age-worn, design on which two peripatic silver palm trees and a windmill-shaped hut roam. Overhead hangs a curved suspension bridge outlined in lights.
The costumes, using lots of silks and brocades, mix periods and places too. It all works brilliantly.
Being a farce concerning two sets of twins — two Antipholuses and two Dromios — there’s the inevitable plethora of mistaken identities.
Brokaw and his cast thoroughly enjoy themselves with the endlesss mixups, and the play’s happy ending sends the audience home smiling. The clarity with which almost the entire cast projects the text is a major reason for the smiles, and text and vocal coach Deborah Hecht deserves much credit.
The two servant Dromios probably have the best material in the play, and this production has two expert comic actors, Brian Mysliwy and Brooks Ashmanskas, playing them, the latter being particularly droll physically.
The two Antipholi are also well projected by Christopher Duva and Jeremy Shamos. Tara Falk is splendidly brisk and no-nonsense as Adriana, and Genevieve Elam, wearing bookish spectacles, is endearing in a lower-key way. Senior actor Nafe Katter brings his Shakespearean expertise to both Solinus and Balthasarm, and no one lets the production down seriously.
What is most impressive about this “Comedy,” which has already had its run extended by four performances through May 13, is the way Brokaw knows how far to go with farce and when to call a halt. The results are thoroughly refreshing.