The Comedy of Errors
Through Aug. 22 at the Riverside Theatre Festival Stage, Lower City Park, Iowa City — Free
Angie Toomsen, director of Riverside Theatre’s production of The Comedy of Errors, brilliantly brought together two things that theater historians might compare to orange juice and toothpaste: 1970s country and Shakespeare. Southern drawls mixed with Shakespearean monologues made the show memorable and even more hilarious, as if the bard himself had written the show with ruby red cowboy boots and an Austin Powers-blue suit in mind.
The slapstick comedy of mistaken identity was cleverly played by the entire cast; the timing and physical comedy had the audience engaged and eagerly clapping for more, even giving the occasional “whoop” after an impressive and animated monologue. The energy and rhythm of the show did not drop, even when the audience did not respond to a particular line or movement, the humour and colorful performances by the cast did not cease. Their dedication to and love for the script and their fellow castmates shone through in each scene.
The dynamic duo of Antipholus of Syracuse (Patrick DuLaney) and Dromio of Syracuse (Elijah Jones) was iconic, each sharing the spotlight and laughter as they played off each other’s incredible whit, physical comedy and fresh take on a very old script. Jones’ quick improv in reacting off of an audience member’s intense laughter created a feeling of comradery and lifted the spirits of an audience separated by social distancing measures, and also created a unique and memorable moment, impossible to replicate.
Every performer had their own talent and gift they brought to the characters and story. Matthew James and Noel VanDenBosch played three completely different characters each, and they moved in and out of them seamlessly. The wise, red-boot-strutting Luciana, played wonderfully by Genevieve Wisdom (who sang beautifully while strumming the ukulele), and her sister, the flirtatious Adriana (Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers), have a typical sister relationship: finding love and protecting each other from heartbreak.
The interaction between the feisty Adrianna and Antipholus of Syracuse — Hartsgrove Mooers grabbing DuLaney as she tries to seduce him — brought the greatest reaction from an audience, one I haven’t heard or felt in the longest time. The 1970s bright lime green dress turns Mooers into the perfect ditzy-but-hell-bent force of nature. The sisterly relationship, played wonderfully by both Hartsgrove Mooers and Wisdom, made the audience audibly gasp when Luciana admits to Adriana that she has fallen for Antipholus, before the mistaken identity is unveiled.
The set takes the audience to a night spent on music row in Nashville, Tennessee. A colorful and wacky Honky Tonk, designed by S. Benjamin Farrar, perfectly coexists with the beautiful costumes designed by Melonie Stoll, the homage she pays to country legends like Dolly Parton blending seamlessly with the deep purple sequin suits that Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse both rocked throughout the performance. Each costume was meticulously designed like it came out of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Props designer Stephan Polchert integrates cowboy plush toys, humorously large cowboy hats and blow up guitars like ones you win from the local fair kept pushing the boundaries of comedy further.
As night settled onto the stage, the fun and games felt like they were just beginning. The energy was never suppressed. The playful and charismatic Dromio of Ephesus, played by Ray Vanek, runs back and forth as he becomes the victim of mistaken identity with his unknown twin, Dromio of Syracuse. Vanek impressively never stumbled on his words — and his monologues are, to put it mildly, complete tongue twisters.
The entire cast spoke without misstep, and the cast did not use mics, which was not a problem. I sat in the farthest row back and could hear every word no matter how crazy the scene became. I did not lose a single line, even when Antipholus of Ephesus (Logan Ernstthal) begs for mercy as he crawls across the stage crying (which symbolized how many of us felt at the end of 2020). Ernstthal was also impressive on the guitar; he lightly strummed while singing, making me think, “Is there anything this cast can’t do?”
At the end of the show, a sense of sentimentality for country music and being together swiftly and gently covered the audience, as the cast welcomed everyone to sing and clap to the hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” I yearned for more as the cast gave their final bows. The show was a testament to local theater returning and creators returning better than ever to their craft.