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The Comedy of Errors
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Shaun Sheley
St. Louis Shakespeare
April 1, 2017

Michael Pierce, Chuck Winning, Zac McMillan, Shane Signorino
Photo by Ron James
St. Louis Shakespeare

April Fool’s Day weekend was a great time to open St. Louis Shakespeare’s latest production. The Comedy of Errors is basically like one big, elaborate, hilarious April Fool’s joke done extremely well. With sharp direction, a terrific cast, and lots of laughs, this is a treat of a production.

The Comedy of Errors is actually one of the few Shakespeare plays I had never actually read or seen, but it really doesn’t matter if an audience is familiar with the material with this production, as clearly and energetically presented as it is. It’s a fairly simple story of mistaken identity, challenging to audience to suspend disbelief but making that suspension entirely worthwhile. The story, set in Ephesus, involves a visitor from Syracuse, Egeon (Dan McGee) who is spared a death sentence for trespassing by the Duke (Erick Lindsey) and is searching for his long-lost family. Meanwhile, other visitors from Syracuse, Antipholus (Shane Signorino), and his servant Dromio (Zac McMillan) arrive and are immediately mistaken for their local doppelgangers Antipholus (Chuck Winning) and Dromio (Michael Pierce) of Ephesus. A somewhat complicated story ensues in which basically everyone is confused, as the Ephesus Antipholus’s wife, Adriana (Frankie Ferrari) and the local authorities also get involved, and Antipholus of Syracuse finds himself attracted to Adriana’s sister, Luciana (Jamie McKitrick). After a series of incidents in which the the wrong people are invited to dinner, the wrong people are locked out of the house, and people get arrested, escape, and just keep getting more and more people involved in the confusion, answers finally start to arrive, but not until after a great deal of hijinks and physical comedy. This play is the very definition of the phrase “hilarity ensues”.

The plot is not deep, but it is convoluted and complicated, and it seems quite challenging for a director and a cast to get all the timing right. Fortunately, St. Louis Shakespeare has found the right director and cast. The pacing is super fast, rarely slowing down, and everyone on stage keeps the energy going with style. The four principals are fantastic, and easy enough to tell apart but also making the confusion understandable. Pierce and McMillan, as the Dromios, carry the brunt of the physical comedy and do so with excellent comic flair. Winning and Signorino are also excellent as the determined and increasingly frustrated Antipholuses. There are also strong, funny performances from Ferrari as the surly Adriana, McKitrick as the bewildered Luciana, Patience Davis as a Courtesan who is caught up in the confusion, McGee as the unfortunate Egeon, Ben Ritchie in three roles including a Merchant and a Doctor, and Margeau Steinau as a local Abbess who gives shelter to one of the pairs, but turns out to be more than she seems. There’s a good-sized cast here, some playing more than one role, and all play their parts well and commendably maintain the breakneck comic pace of this fascinatingly ridiculous plot.

The direction is sharp and dynamically paced, staged on Scott McDonald’s colorful set that serves as a suitable backdrop for the play’s action. There are also well-matched, well-suited costumes by Annalise Webb, clear sound by Ted Drury, and excellent lighting by James Spurlock.

The Comedy of Errors is a short play, and this production is brisk, brief, and action-packed, running without an intermission. It’s a quick-witted, quick moving, laugh-fest of a story. Even though the plot itself is difficult to believe, the implausibility adds to the sheer fun of it all. This is a hilarious production from start to finish.

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Frankie Ferrari, Jamie McKitrick Photo by Ron James St. Louis Shakespeare

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting The Comedy of Errors at the Ivory Theatre until April 9, 2017.

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Wild Oats
by James McLure
Directed by Shaun Sheley
St. Louis Shakespeare
August 22, 2015

Nicole Angeli, Erik Kuhn Photo by Kim Carlson St. Louis Shakespeare

Nicole Angeli, Erik Kuhn
Photo by Kim Carlson
St. Louis Shakespeare

There’s a lot more Shakespeare in Wild Oats than you may initially think. While not written by the Bard himself, the latest production from St. Louis Shakespeare relies a great deal on quotes from his work. An uproarious, silly Wild West comic melodrama, this is a show that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s kind of the point.

There’s a lot of story here. Updated and adapted from John O’Keeffe’s 18th Century comedy, Wild Oats takes the action out West, with a large cast, larger-than-life characters and mile-a-minute laughs.  It’s a story of mistaken identity, unexpected love, long-lost relatives, and of course the cartoonish villains.  The wildly convoluted story is somewhat difficult to describe without spoiling the fun. The main characters include the blustering Colonel Thunder (John Foughty), whose son Harry (Michael Pierce) has gone back East, failed out of West Point and become an actor and somewhat of a dandy.  He’s made friends with fellow itinerant actor Jack Rover (Erik Kuhn), who has a penchant for quoting Shakespeare. When Harry and Jack go their separate ways, they both end up in the same town, along with Harry’s estranged father and feisty cousin Kate (Nicole Angeli), whom the Colonel is hoping Harry will marry. There’s also the Colonel’s trusty “Indian guide”, Crow (John Wolbers), who has red braids and speaks with an Irish accent, who seems to know more about the Colonel’s long-lost love, Amelia (Jamie Eros), than he lets on. The plot also includes the requisite bad guys, such as the scheming Ephraim (Christopher LaBanca), a would-be minister who operates his own exclusive sect, and who lusts after Jane (Ashley Bauman), daughter of the show’s other villain, the unscrupulous landlord Ike Gammon (Anthony Wininger). There are more characters here than can be easily named, but I’ll just say that things get weirder and weirder as the story goes on, with the expected implausible conclusions that go with the territory in an outrageous farce such as this.

The point of a show like this is comedy, and comedy requires timing and precision. That’s all here in this very well-staged and directed production. It’s one of those shows that throws so many jokes at the audience with the idea that they’re bound to laugh at some of them. It’s at turns silly and clever, with melodrama conventions such as the damsel in distress tied to the railroad tracks, mustache-twirling villains, and more.  There’s also the fun convention of having the stagehands hold up signs instructing the audience to cheer, boo, and more at various times throughout the show. It’s all put together with a strong sense of fun, and period flavor provided by Jason Townes’s colorful versatile set and Tayor Donham’s detailed, character-specific costumes.

The cast is energetic and amiable, and very enthusiastic.  The overall upbeat atmosphere of the show is augmented by the performances, with Kuhn and Angeli making an excellent team as the unlikely love interests, Jack and Kate. The rough-around-the-edges Kate tries and fails to act the refined lady, and Angeli portrays this dilemma with excellent comic timing, especially in a fun scene in which she and Kuhn try to rehearse a scene from The Taming of the Shrew. Kuhn makes an ideal melodramatic hero, also working well with Pierce as the hilariously dandified Harry, and Foughty, who’s a joy as the perpetually confused Colonel. Other standouts including Wininger and LaBanca at their oily best as villains Ike and Ephraim, Bauman as the spunky Jane, and Wolbers in several roles including the scheming Crow, and one half of pair of delightfully ridiculous theatrical impresarios, Kliege (Brian Rolf) and Lieko (Wolbers).  The whole ensemble seems to be having a great deal of fun in this play, and that fun is certainly infectious.

Wild Oats is a silly play in the best sense of the word. It’s supposed to be goofy, over-the-top, and full of ridiculous coincidences, to highly comedic effect. The cast and crew at St. Louis Shakespeare have put together an immensely entertaining, fast-moving show that’s sure to bring lots of laughs.

John Foughty, Erik Kuhn, Michael Pierce Photo by Kim Carlson St. Louis Shakespeare

John Foughty, Erik Kuhn, Michael Pierce
Photo by Kim Carlson
St. Louis Shakespeare

St. Louis Shakespeare presents Wild Oats at the Ivory Theatre until August 30th, 2015

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