Thursday, July 4, 2019

"La Comedia of Errors": Day 5, Play 5, Theatre Eddys Goes to the 2019 Oregon Shakespeare Festival

La Comedia of Errors
William Shakespeare
Bilingual Adaptation by Lydia G. Garcia & Bill Rauch of a Play On!
Translation by Christina Anderson

Fidel Gomez, Mark Murphey, Tony Sancho & Catherine Castellanos
Slapstick comedy reigns supreme while at the same time, strong messages are pronounced in both English and Spanish about our country’s current treatment of Latinx immigrants.  While the farcical elements of two sets of identical twins separated at birth now landing decades later in the same town still draw tons of laughs as mix-ups abound, there is nothing funny about the realities of deportation that led to their and their parents’ initial separations or now threaten the miracle of a family’s long, overdue reunion.  Oregon Shakespeare Festival takes the original, much-beloved, William Shakespeare The Comedy of Errors and presents a bilingual adaptation by Lydia G. Garcia & Bill Rauch of a Play On! translation by Christina Anderson.  OSF’s Comedia of Errors breaks new grounds on a number of different levels including presenting the ninety-minute comedy in a stark, fully-lit rehearsal hall to a double-row circle of patrons who watch (and often participate in) the shenanigans as they unravel all around them.
Further, Spanish takes no back seat to English, with the two languages intertwining with a clarity such that everyone feels included and totally understood.

In this updated telling, a merchant from Mexico, Egéon is separated from half his family during a sandstorm after a plane crash that lands his wife and two sons – each one-half of a set of likened-named, identical twins – in the U.S. while he and the other two halves of twins are deported by border patrols back to Mexico.  (These events are acted in mime by the cast with much exaggeration and hilarity as a preamble to the play.)  As our story formally begins where Shakespeare’s original picks up the action, Egéon has been once again detained thirty-three years later by a U.S. sheriff as he has crossed the border looking for his sons, Antífolo and Drómio, who left fifteen years prior to look across America for their long-lost brothers.  \

In true Shakespeare comedic fashion, they arrive in the same town where their father has been arrested, which is of course the home of their identical counterparts, Antipholus and the U.S.A. Dromio.  A somewhat sympathetic sheriff has given Egéon until sunset to come up with the $100,000 bail that will allow him to stay in the U.S. rather than being arrested and deported once again.  That is just enough time for the four brothers, a wife, a sister-in-law, and a number of towns people to become thoroughly embroiled in mixed identities, with strangers handing strangers they think they actually know money, jewelry, debts, and accusations of disloyalty, infidelity, and thievery.

Tony Sancho & Fidel Gomez
Fidel Gomez and Tony Sancho are absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious as each respectively plays both the Mexican and the U.S. versions of the twins, Antifolo de México and Antipholus of U.S.A. as well as Drómio de México and Dromio of U.S.A.  From our standpoint, a baseball cap on the A’s and a knit cap on the D’s is all that helps us keep the twins apart, with green for the Mexican brothers and blue for the U.S.A. versions.  When with the brother each has known since birth, both sets of twins have similar ways of joking, ribbing, and pounding on each other as brothers are wont to do – similar enough so that when the brothers meet on the street the other half they have never met prior, they continue the same brotherly antics with little notice of something amiss.  That is until the Mexican halves begin naturally to spout forth in fluent Spanish – something the U.S. Mexican-American halves have never taken the time to learn.  That difference is just the beginning of the multiplying signs obvious to us but still missing to them that there are more brothers of theirs than just the two of them in this border town.

Fidel Gomez, Tony Sancho & Grant Ruiz
Director Bill Rauch calls upon the traditions of the great silent movie comedies; of Vaudeville; and of fifties TV/movie comedy greats like Red Skeleton, Lucille Ball, and Jerry Lewis as he guides all the twins through their misidentifications and even their normal, brotherly back-and-forth picking on each other.  The smaller Dromios tend to be the real clowns as they fall, roll, or scoot across the floor on their construction-ready knee-pads (that go along with their belt of tools). The Dromios often feel the brunt of the larger A’s punches and pushes (usually accompanied by a sound effect from another cast member), especially as mixed Mexican/U.S.A. brothers encounter each other and one of the A’s discovers one of the D’s does not have the money he gave him or has brought a rope instead of a gold chain to him. 

As the two Dromios, Tony Sanchez is particularly hilarious as he often does a quick body roll to go from one D to the next, something Fidel Gomez also must do when in the end when all four twins meet with only two actors to accomplish the reunion.  Through it all and more, Bill Rauch finds innumerable ways to jack up the number of laughs (including directing the hats/caps to take a life on their own), never forgetting also to use the two languages as part of the fun as brothers meet other brothers who all of a sudden know a language not known the day before. 

But the merriment is certainly not confined just to the four bro’s.  Amy Lizardo is magnificent as Adriana, the strong-willed wife/esposa of Antipholus of U.S.A., taking no excuses when her husband shows up who now suddenly speaks Spanish and acts like he has no idea who she is nor why he should follow her into the house for dinner.  Her range of emotional displays from exploding anger to anguished hurt to tear-flowing worry is both impressive and always funny (at least for us, if not for her or either of the A’s). 

Equally strong is Caro Zeller as Luciana, the sister/hermana of Andriana.  She bursts with zealous determination as she tries to bring the errant A’s and D’s back to their senses, often looking like a mini-bulldozer as she moves in to push them in the direction she believes they must go.  But when suddenly Antifolo of México starts making Romeo moves on her, Luciana shudders from head-to-toe and slowly succumbs to the Spanish love-making in words he floods upon her, only coming to her more rational senses just before he scores a big kiss.

Joining in the fun for us but total confusion and frustration for them is Angelo, a jeweler who only wants to deliver a gold chain Antipholus of U.S.A. ordered and to collect his $500.  At various points, Cedric Lamar gets to shine forth in showing off his jocularity, struggling to collect from the wrong A either his chain or his refund of money in a scene that looks like one from the old Saturday morning cartoons many of us grew up watching.

Catherine Castellanos & Amy Lizardo
Catherine Castellanos gets to play both ends of the spectrum as first the rough-and-ready and quite sexy Barkeep owner of the Porcupine Bar and second as the quite holy and formal Holy Mother Superior.  In the latter role, she becomes the worker of a miracle that very much involves herself, but only after more sidesplitting antics where her moment of revelation can occur after she motions across the room and the audience for a twin who is there to run over and to be the other twin that she now must now have next to her.

Meme Garcia is an opinionated La Vecina, or neighbor, who feels free to offer in very loud, assertive Spanish her spontaneous comments – often to the stunned looks of her fellow thespians.  She also steps in to serve as an interpreter/narrator to ensure that both Spanish and English speaking audience members understand some portion or another of the story.  (She is a comic dynamo in her own regard, especially if one finds yourself sitting next to her in the audience as did my husband and me.)

Mark Murphey & Armando Durán
Called upon to play more serious parts – but ones that still have their moments of twinkling humor – are Armando Durán as the apprehended Egéon and Jeffrey King as the arresting Sheriff Solinus.  Each puts a face, a personality, a back-story, and a timely human dilemma on our nation’s current immigrant issues.

Even with all the rolling, rollicking antics and humor, the message of this La Comedia of Errors comes across loud and clear, no matter which language audience members understand.  Those who have found themselves, for whatever reason, on a different side of the border from where they were born are still very much like all the rest of us.  They are loving spouses, hard workers, lovers of good times, parents, and children.  Their differences from any of the rest of us are much fewer than all our similarities; and if we happen to have different colors of skin or speak different languages, these are just surface differences.  As this brilliant, bilingual farce so vividly illustrates, there is always room for humanity to rise above politics and for any Sheriff Solinus always to know that he and all of us have choices to make how we receive, treat, and welcome our new neighbor from the South, one like Egéon, a Mexican merchant just looking to reunite his family.

Rating: 4 E

La Comedia of Errors continues through October 26, 2019 in either the Thomas Theatre or at various other spots around Ashland as part of the 2019 Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Tickets are available at

Photos by Jenny Graham

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