By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In The Comedy of Errors, Brian Isaac Phillips dons a Hawaiian shirt and gets in touch with his wacko side as one of two abused servants named Dromio. Identically costumed but slightly more madly coiffed, Matt Johnson makes a strong Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival debut as Phillips' twin.
Christopher Guthrie is silky smooth as one of two twin masters, both named Antipholus, and members of the festival's Young Company shine, most significantly Jeffrey Bower as the scurrilous Antipholus; Taylore Mahogany Scott continuing her consistent fine work as his unloved and unhappy wife Adrianna; and Ghillian Porter, showing a nice comic flair as her sister Lucianna.
They inhabit a Comedy of Errors set along Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras, which sounds like an invitation to laissez les bon temps rouler, and in some ways Errors is: The principal players are a pleasure to watch and they keep the good times rolling.
But Errors is also living proof of the axiom "tragedy is easy, comedy is hard."
The performances are worth seeing, and a lot of the individual bits are very funny. There are so many good ideas swirling around, there's real potential for riotous fun.
What isn't onstage is focus and control. As Shakespeare's long-lost twins cause endless confusion until it's time for a happy family reunion, Errors careens along as if there's nobody at the wheel.
That may be because director Nicholas Rose concentrated on pulling those individual strong performances out; no doubt a lot of time went into choreographing the physical comedy, with all the smacking and ducking and bonks on the head timed to within an inch of the actors' lives.
It may even be that so much time was spent rehearsing the Antipholi and Dromios so they could play each other's parts. (Casting is chosen by the audience.)
The idea sounds clever, but where's the pay-off if audiences don't come back and see it again and again in its various formats? (How would they know they wouldn't be seeing the same combination again and again?)
Rose's time would have been better spent figuring out what to do with the partiers who drift in and out of the action and basically dutifully stand and watch. On Bourbon Street? At Mardi Gras?
Guthrie again doubles as sound designer and as always creates a subtly effective soundscape, although I'd have liked a little more zydeco. Its music is part of the heartbeat of this city.
The festival is pulling itself out of a cash crunch, but the way to make the box office go cha-ching isn't with elements like Zack Brown's set, which has a utilitarian, nowhere-in-particular look to it. A few N'Awlins flourishes would have gone a long way.
In the spirit of throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, Errors will be graced nightly with a walk-on by a local notable. Some nights are obviously going to be more notable than others.
The Comedy of Errors, through March 9, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, 381-2279.
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