Nancy Sasso Janis
OnStage Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle
“...ultimately, it’s a wonderfully democratic and inclusive play. There is a place at the table for everyone.” - Darko Tresnjak, director of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ at Hartford Stage
Hartford, CT - Hartford Stage has made it part of their mandate to produce Shakespeare annually, a mission that is both ambitious and not inexpensive. To me, this is a goal that more theatre companies should strive to attain. Audiences, especially young patrons, need more opportunities to attend affordable and high quality productions of the works of the Bard. It was the norm when I was in high school in Stratford to attend at least one Shakespeare play every year at the American Shakespeare Theatre and no one misses this theater more than me. Thus began my appreciation for the works of William Shakespeare and I try not to miss any chance to see a local production.
I enjoyed the Hartford Stage production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ last year, so I looked forward to this year’s version of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ directed by Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak. This marks the second time that Mr. Tresnjak has directed what he calls this “imaginative and well-crafted play.” He continues: “I love how deftly Shakespeare juggles the farcical plot, two sets of twins in a single location in the span of a single day.” The director also appreciates that except for the Duke, the characters are largely middle class, and that there are six great leading roles and lots of great character parts.
This production is set in the mid-sixties inspired by the Greek film ‘Never on Sunday,’ as well as early Bollywood, and the combination works beautifully. The 22 cast members, in outstanding costumes designed by Fabio Toblini, perfectly match the decade and the set designed by Mr. Tresnjak is a work of (Greek) art. Paula Leggett Chase as the courtesan opens the play with a sexy rendition of “Never on a Sunday” accompanied by two onstage musicians. The director has also added a spectacular production number a la Bollywood that brought down the house. I loved the addition of the music and dancing, but I still will go on record that this production will be on my list of top ten plays for this year.
Every single member of this cast makes their mark on this fabulous production. Lauren Bricca (a junior at The Hartt School,) Daisy Infantas (a junior at University of Hartford,) and Monica Owen (another junior at The Hartt School) are sixties perfect. Jamaal Fields-Green (a junior at The Hartt School,) Evan McReddie (The Hartt School,) and Tyler Pisani (yet another junior at The Hartt School) are the male members of the ensemble that get to play Greek policemen.
Michael Elich plays Solinus, the Duke of Ephesus, in a white suit and an eye patch, as well as an old lady and the odd Dr. Pinch, both in black. Louis Butelli is a merchant, Balthazar the barber, and a sailor. Tara Heal (Dance captain) is a riot as the plump Nell, a kitchen maid. This actress’ costumes is a masterpiece that allows her to execute a cartwheel despite its girth. Brendan Averett is a tall Angelo, the goldsmith, and Kalob Martinez, currently an MFA candidate in the Puppet Arts Program at UConn, is an officer. The super talented musicians include Louis Tucci and Alexander Sovronsky, the composer, music director, and arranger.
In the leading roles of the twins are Ryan-James Hatanaka as Antipholus of Ephesus and Tyler Lansing Weaks as Antipholus of Syracuse. The twin Dromios almost steal the show and are played with gusto by Alan Schmuckler (of Syracuse) and West Hartford native Matthew Macca (of Ephesus.) The wife of Antipholus, Adriana, is played to the hilt by Jolly Abraham in her Hartford Stage debut and her sister Luciana is brought to life by Mahira Kakkar, who begins the role in a beautiful sari and cat-eye glasses.
Noble Shropshire (‘A Christmas Carol-A Ghost Tale of Christmas’) is a riot in the role of Aegeon, a merchant of Syracuse and another Hartford Stage veteran, Johanna Morrison (also of ‘A Christmas Carol’) dons a purple robe as the abbess Aemilia.
The look of the production is seaside and sundrenched, with three small boats in the harbor, and every touch screams the sixties in Greece. Gorgeous wig and hair design by Tom Watson brought us back to the era; the three female ensemble members (billed as prostitutes) could not have been better dressed. Matthew Richards lit the stage with clever insight and Peggy Hickey (‘Anastasia’) was in charge of the playful choreography.
The ninety minutes without intermission move nimbly with lots of laughs along the way. The broad comic touches make the action much easier to follow; the original language is there in all of its glory, but even the most Shakespeare phobic can manage to understand the complicated plot without having to concentrate too hard. I hope that the high school students I saw attending the matinee enjoyed it as much as I (and the rest of the matinee audience) did.
‘The Comedy of Errors’ runs through Feb. 12 at Hartford Stage.
Photos by T. Charles Erickson.