SACRED FOOLS | MAINSTAGE 2001 - The Comedy of Errors

ant!...Revs its tempo to furioso!...The Sacred Fools have their way with Shakespeare!"

"Riotous!...airy, fun, and energetic...and zips along at a lightning pace!"

The Comedy of Errors
Produced by John Wuchte & Laura Esposito 

On the Sacred Fools Mainstage
June 28 - July 28, 2001
Thur, Fri & Sat @ 8pm
Tickets: $15
Reservations: (310) 281-8337
 or Purchase Tickets Online!
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With a Live Percussive Band!
Fire Eaters! Stilt Walkers!
Costumes & Masks Galore!

Aldrich Allen, Paul Byrne, Dan Colman, Jon Epstein, Jamison Haase, Zach Hanks, Eileen Ikuta, G. Anthony Joseph, Crystal Keith, Michael Lanahan, Kara S. Leigh, Jerry Neill, Ashley West Leonard, Julie A. Lockhart, Ruth Silveira, Michael Spitz, Eric J. Stein, Shani Tennyson and  Jessie Thompson

Musicians - John Wuchte / John Graham / Eric J. Stein
Stage Manager - Karimah Tennyson
Choreography - Kirstin Burbank
Costume Design - Laura Esposito
Masks & Puppets - Richard Gustafson
Scenic Painting - Shannon Quaschnick & Stan Freitag
Set - Carlos Fedos
Lights - John Sylvain
Live Music - John Wuchte
Sound - Dean Jacobson
Fire - Michael Moreno
Props - Stan Freitag
Poster/Postcard Design - Patricia Klein
Light Board Op - Steve Tanner
Sound Board Op - Mike Anaya
Running Crew - Bryan Bellomo


BACKSTAGE WEST (Critics Pick!)

Two sets of identical twins, masters and slaves bearing identical names, are separated at birth, and thereby hangs a tale that pushes mistaken identity mishaps to the max. What's to do with such a comedy of errors? Sacred Fools here sets it on the mythical Brazilian isle of Ephesus at carnival time, backing it with the beat of bongos and maracas. Director Joe Jordan spikes it with exuberant interludes, revs its tempo to furioso so its two acts are over in an hour and a half, tosses it in air, and lets it rain down like calypso confetti.

The convoluted plot defies belief. Let's cut to this version's main attraction: its multicolor vivacity, and the flavors of carnival, commedia, and vaudeville that give it a kick. Drumbeat, dance, and dramatic narration begin it as Jerry Neill's old Egeon of Syracuse recounts the long, long, very long tale of his twin babes, their twin bondsmen, and his beloved wife, all lost in a familiar Shakespearean catastrophe, a storm at sea. Masked revelers mime the sad story as he tells it, and the Duke of Ephesus (G. Anthony Joseph) listens sympathetically but condemns Egeon to death anyway, just for being from Syracuse. Joseph, natty in a Fascist uniform, takes frequent pratfalls but always immediately regains his dignity.

Also from Syracuse are Antipholus (Zach Hanks) and his hardy slave Dromio (Michael Lanahan). It's a cinch they are one set of lost twins. Agile and energetic, Hanks and Lanahan stand centerstage and banter like vaudevillians. Jon Epstein and Eric J. Stein are their counterparts, Ephesus Antipholus and Dromio. The boys from Syracuse get all the best lines, and Lanahan is a cast standout. Ashley West Leonard's Adriana, wife of Syracuse Antipholus and a peppery lady in a flirty red dress, handles iambic pentameter well. In flouncy blue chiffon, her quieter sister Luciana, played by Jessie Thompson, catches the eye of Syracuse Antipholus, leading to complications. Of course, Adriana takes him for her hubby. So it goes.

Shapely Crystal Keith's ability to swallow live flame is astonishing and amazing--how does she do that? Shani Tennyson casts spells as a voodoo priestess. Eileen Ikuta, Kara Leigh, choreographer Kirstin Burbank, and Jamison Haase, who also dances on stilts, provide a spirited terpsichorean introduction to the second act. Masks and puppets by Richard Gustafson are award worthy, as are Laura Esposito's costumes of many splendors: Arthurian tunics for the high-born twins, Harlequin-esque beribboned pantaloons for their slaves, and Afrocentric daishikis for the voodoo lady and Aldrich Allen's grinning Balthazar (never without a marijuana cigarette between his lips and another behind his ear).

The Sacred Fools have their way with Shakespeare, and the Bard is none the worse for it.

-- Polly Warfield


Director Joe Jordan sets Shakespeare’s tale of twins and mistaken identity on a magical island off the coast of Brazil during Carnival, with visually pleasing results. The production looks great: Richard Gustafson’s masks and puppets and Laura Esposito’s colorful costumes provide the eye candy, with Crystal Keith’s fire-eating adding to the spectacle. Kirstin Burbank’s lively choreography lends visual flair — all with the cumulative result of background details often being more interesting than the main action. The music, for example — featuring fine percussionists John Wuchte, John Graham and Eric J. Stein — occasionally overshadows the action it’s designed to support. The production soars highest during the ensemble scenes and tends to chug during the exposition. Ashley West Leonard and Jessie Thompson are fine as sisters in love with twins, but Zach Hanks and Jon Epstein fare less well as the objects of their affection. As the second set of twins, Michael Lanahan and Eric J. Stein very nearly walk away with the show. Lanahan in particular is physically and verbally agile in a demanding role. Jordan’s staging succeeds in making Shakespeare’s shortest and most accessible comedy even shorter and more accessible through burlesque and slapstick, though several performers struggle with the rapid-fire delivery.

-- Sandra Ross


In the Sacred Fools Theater rendition of "The Comedy of Errors," director Joe Jordan turns Shakespeare's Ephesus into an island off the coast of Brazil.

Though ruled by a dictator with gun-toting guards, the islanders are celebrating the annual Carnival of Summer. Cue the Latin beat, the vivid colors, the gyrating dancers, a guy on stilts, the fire-eater, the ganja smoking, the black magic, the giant bird puppet that saunters through the streets. Jordan maintains the ambience throughout the show.

Not everything fits the tropical motif, however. Two of the three band members, off to one side, wear white crew-neck T-shirts under their tropical shirts--befitting, say, a U.S. college frat party. They also provide a stream of sound effects that sound inspired by old-fashioned vaudeville.

A servant and his master communicate by cell phone until they realize they're within a few steps of each other. As the two Dromios tussle on either side of a door, they whip out giant squirt guns and shoot water through the mail slot--then one of them aims at the audience. A bit of verbal sparring between one of the servants and his master adopts game show rhythms. One of the Antipholuses goes into a "Saturday Night Fever" routine. A voodoo healer performs an exorcism with a plastic chicken.

Sight gags--from whatever lineage--just keep coming, especially in the raucous second half. The comedy is as broad as possible.

Initially the yield of laughs per gag is a little light, but the show builds steam. The Dromios, Michael Lanahan and Eric J. Stein, never grow tiresome. Zach Hanks' Antipholus of Syracuse and Jessie Thompson's gangly Luciana manage a brief moment of actual sentiment, while Jon Epstein's Antipholus of Ephesus and Ashley West Leonard's Adriana maintain a harder comic edge.

-- Don Shirley


In a riotous new production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors at The Sacred Fools Theatre, luridly masked dancers, giant puppets, sultry fire-eaters, and reeling stilt-walkers frolic on stage before the first act and create a lasting mood of revelry and exuberance. Adding to the festivity is a Latin percussion ensemble performing under an open-air thatched hut.  A glossy back-drop depicting palm trees, sand, and ocean helps to let the audience know this staging of the quicksilver Elizabethan farce takes place on Ephesus, a mythical island off the coast of Brazil at Carnaval time.  Here folly and confusion reign.

All is not sunny and serene, though, on this tropical isle.  Ephesus and Syracuse, a nearby kingdom, are at war, and the Duke of Ephesus has decreed that any citizen of Syracuse found on his island shall be put to death.  One person facing this penalty is Egeon.  He came to the island hoping to find his long lost identical twin sons.  Early in act one Egeon delivers an absurdly long expository speech, which the assembled mute revelers behind him act out in pantomime.  This lively pantomime helps to illustrate Shakespeare’s artful but elusive 16th century blank verse.

The two lost boys, we learn, both named Antipholus, were separated from their father and from each other years ago in a shipwreck along with another pair of identical twins, their servants, both named Dromio.  All of them, of course, find their way to the island, initiating a frantic round of misidentification.  Romance further complicates this antic disorder.  Two sisters, the vixenish Adriana and the daft Luciana, charm the two Antipholus brothers, most often though the wrong one at the wrong time, resulting in zesty comic tension and misunderstanding.  The Dromio twins, more harlequins than helpers, also add to the gleeful pandemonium; they delight in nonsense and foolery and vex all whom they meet.

In the show’s solid cast, several performers stand out.  Ashley West Leonard, husky-voiced and sensuous, commands the attention as the fiery and imperious Adriana.  Brisk and blithe, she stalks the stage like a cheery tigress.  Jessie Thompson, as the sublimely bemused Luciana, elicits laughter with her quizzical looks, girlish gait, and expertly clumsy gestures.  She is enchantingly silly.  And Eric J. Stein with his clear voice, crisp movements, and eloquent eyes projects both intelligence and absurdity as the clownish Dromio of Ephesus.  In particular, the Sacred Fools ensemble exhibited poise and professionalism on opening night, staying in character when a heavy light fixture fell and crashed onto the stage.

Director Joe Jordan’s choice of a tropical setting adds color and dash to this production of The Comedy of Errors but subtracts somewhat from the play’s logic.  A zany and fevered spectacle offers much delight to the eye but obscures plot and character.  Always fun and fast-paced, it is at times though hard to tell what’s happening to whom and why. Similarly, the Latin trio’s non-stop percussive accompaniment to the action and dialogue (rim-shots, clangs, and metallic squawks) is at first amusing but before long grates on the nerves and interferes with the actors’ timing and delivery.  Here is a case where less is more.  More troubling, what gets laughs for the most part in this show is not Shakespeare’s rapid wordplay but rather pratfalls, mugging, and riffs on pop culture. Reducing wit to slapstick, however, may be a sad and unavoidable concession to modern audiences unaccustomed to the richness, intricacy, and grace of Elizabethan language.

Still, this production of The Comedy of Errors is on balance airy, fun, and energetic.  It features good acting and colorful costumes and zips along at a lightning pace. With gusto and imagination, the Sacred Fools concoct an effervescent evening’s entertainment.

-- James Hollwig