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NY Theater Reviews

David Newman and Robert Hands/ Ph: Julieta Cervantes



A London import packs insight as well as humor to spare.

When’s the last time that Shakespearean clowning evinced so much as a weak grin? With their sprightly version of The Comedy of Errors, set in a seedy Latin American resort town, Edward Hall’s all-male Propeller company will have you shrieking with laughter at regular intervals.
It’s not just that these patently masculine performers look so amusing in drag – though they certainly do. A leopard-skin headband encircling his balding tonsure, Robert Hands is an Almodóvaresque vision of cougary shrewishness as Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife, Adriana; he happens to have great gams, with which to scissor the stage in fury. Production designer Michael Pavelka has frizzy-haired David Newman got up in classic 50s prom-wallflower attire as Adriana’s presumably softer sister, Luciana, who keeps some Miss Piggy karate moves in reserve for when her back is up.
The cross-dressing works so well because it’s a starting point, not a statement. The cast forgoes typical wink-wink, aren’t-we-outré shenanigans – although there’s plenty of outrageousness on view. A brief glimpse of a strategically placed sparkler, for instance, is an image you’ll never forget. It’s on the person of one Dr. Clinch, a “conjurer,” whom Tony Bell plays as a holy-roller preacher, pretty much stealing the show.
But there’s so much to enjoy here: the stalwart Antipholi (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Sam Swainsbury) and their matching twin servants, the Dromios (Richard Frame and Jon Trenchard), the latter sporting thatched wigs that resemble frayed and faded pile carpet. If you’re into Three Stooges-style nyuk-nyuks, these boys really take a beating – all in good fun.
And even as the sight gags amuse, the company manages to underscore a deeper theme enfolded in this farce of mistaken identity, one of Shakespeare’s earliest works. The constant reversals in the twins’ fortunes might get you thinking about the disparity between subjective reality (the way we perceive ourselves in the world) and consensual “truth” (how others see and judge us, based on superficial signifiers). It’s a topic worth pondering.
Or you could just have a good laugh.