Shakespeare moved to New Orleans, circa 1920? Sure. Whatever.
But wait. The play is Comedy of Errors, a timeless hoot without a true crisis in sight. The period suggests a costume bonanza. Plenty of chances for delicious live music. A casual attitude toward race that makes color-blind casting comfortable. But mainly, it’s all about fun, with room for the good times to roll.
Thank goodness the Old Globe bosses saw it this way and gave director Scott Ellis license to ramble. The rest of the summer’s business on the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre stage will be building the nightly parade.
This is is the play with the two sets of twins – masters and servants identical in every way including names – separated at birth and reunited after considerable confusion. One Antipholus, attended by his Dromio, is settled in Ephesus (an ancient city in what’s now Turkey) serving here as New Orleans. The other Antipholus/Dromio duo is travellers from…Biloxi? Corpus Christi? Fortunately, the Globe sees no point in getting more literal so the cities remain Ephesus and Syracuse, old rivals eyeing the exchange of visitors with suspicion.
That’s about all the set-up needed. The home Antipholus has a big, iron balconied place in the French Quarter, complete with a gorgeous wife and surrounded by temptations of the flesh. The touring Antipholus is surprised to find himself welcomed on every side and even presented with gifts, such as a golden chain commissioned for wife or mistress by the local brother. Etc., etc.
Ellis has chosen to do the twins with just one actor each, Glenn Howerton as both masters, Rory O’Malley as both men. This works fine until the denouement we’ve all been waiting for: The face-to-face reunions. For those, Ellis trots out the understudies and keeps their backs mostly towards the audience, a casual solution to what can be a casting problem. In fact, this blithe insouciance in the face of any stretch of imagination characterizes the whole gamboling romp.
There’s no Duke in New Orleans, says one of you spoilsports? Ah, but there’s Austin Durant, resplendent in raccoon fur, snap-brim fedora and bling, as a flashy boss of some sort, plenty enough duke to take over.
Do the cops seem flexible in enforcing the laws of (tee hee) Ephesus? Well, remember the reputation of New Orleans. There’s lots of injected local color: the regular cathedral bells, the parade of sporting girls instructed to, “…depend on the kindness of strangers,” the sudden appearance of Clarence Darrow in the Scopes Monkey Trial… Well, maybe that’s a stretch, but on with the parade.
The music comes from a trio of real musicians – led by Derek Cannon, who probably is the guy playing the mean trumpet licks – with various cast-members (including a nun on tuba) joining in as needed. This, of course, makes a couple of showy numbers inevitable, one featuring hefty Garth Schilling in drag with “I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” and the other with Austin Durant again, this time as a howlin’, healin’, James Brown-type evangelist summoned to de-Satinize the identity witchcraft. Needless to say, the whole crowd leads the audience out into the Balboa Park night after all is settled.
Howerton and O’Malley keep the master/servant stuff roiling along with some slapstick seasoning but a solid reliance on the author. Megan Dobbs as the wife is gorgeous, brittle and icy-hot with passion while Barrett Doss is loyal but lush as her elegant sister. The contrast is thrillingly sensual in an entirely domestic fashion and the sister certainly does deserve her own Antipholus there at the end.
Lowell Byers and Patrick Zeller represent the commercial world stoutly and the finale, in which all are reunited and matched up, features a sad sack Patrick Kerr as a family man restored and Deborah Taylor as a dominant churchwoman abruptly secularized.
I feel like I’ve seen that house that dominates Alexander Dodge’s luscious set, maybe just down the street from Antoine’s on Bourbon Street. Phillip S. Rosenberg contrives to light everything as if seen through confetti, even the stuff happening in the aisles.
But nobody’s seen the Linda Cho costumes except in the sleekest style magazines of the day. Everybody looks so proud and elegant and bon ton that they might have stepped tight out of Louis Armstrong’s dreams.
(Continues in the Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Stage at 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays until Sept. 20, 2015, with Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. starting Sept. 8. )
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