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Experts in foolery romp in `Comedy of Errors'

By John Beaufort / June 4, 1987



New York

The Comedy of Errors Play by William Shakespeare. Directed by Robert Woodruff. Don't let anybody tell you that they can't juggle the Bard. They in this case refers, of course, to the Flying Karamazov Brothers, the Vaudeville Nouveau, and their companions in foolery. These congenial iconoclasts are now committing a ``Hellzapoppin''' version of ``The Comedy of Errors'' (Shakespeare's version of Plautus) at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

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``The Comedy of Errors'' begins silently as the Janitor (Avner the Eccentric Eisenberg) does the clown version of sweeping the stage. Before you can say ``The Twin Menaechmi,'' everything starts to come together and fall apart as the farce about double twin brothers and mistaken identities begins its pellmell course. Hang onto your astonishment and suspend your disbelief. This company defies everything, beginning with the law of gravity.

The same ``juggling and cheap theatrics'' that have distinguished the Karamazov Brothers' previous outings again prevail at the Beaumont. Though indispensable to the proceedings, Shakespeare (Timothy Furst) is so incidental that he must appear occasionally to check the fate of his comic trifle and (naturally) do a bit of juggling. The performance also features acrobatics, low wire and trapeze acts, belly dancing, fire eating, baton twirling, stilt walking, extraneous sight gags, and lots of false noses.

The show is never more in its element than when the entire company takes the stage for a mass display of the juggler's art. Director Robert Woodruff rides herd on the organized anarchy, as he has done previously for the Goodman Theatre of Chicago, where the Beaumont's version originated, and the Los Angeles Olympic Festival.

The Antipholus twins are played by Howard Jay Patterson and Paul Magid, the twin Dromios by Randy Nelson and Sam Williams. Baton twirler Sophie Hayden and Gina Leishman tap and generally frolic their way through the roles of Adriana and Luciana, respectively. Elsewhere, there is some audacious doubling. For instance: Mr. Eisenberg (Janitor/the merchant Egeon), Alec Willows (a turnabout Goldsmith/Merchant), Karla Burns (Duke/Luce the maid), and Ethyl Eichelberger in drag (Emilia/Courtesan).

Shakespeare's dialogue is interlarded with anachronisms, topical references, wild puns, and snippets from other of his plays. On its own audacious and physically comic level, this ``Comedy of Errors'' is an enjoyable romp, a gallimaufry of high jinks and low gags. The performance is indispensably enhanced by Douglas Wieselman and Thaddeus Spae's not-so-incidental music (performed by the seven-piece Kamikaze Ground Crew), David Gropman's alfresco Ephesus setting (airily lighted by Paul Gallo), and Susan Hilferty's marvelous motley of costumes. Shakespeare, anyone? See you later, bardolator!