Hipsters meet Shakespeare

Seattle invades Portland in A Comedy of Errors

By Rev. Adam McKinney on November 13, 2015

Styles of comedy come in and out of fashion. Comedies of manners were largely confined to the UK; slapstick is interchangeably considered the height of entertainment or the bottom of the barrel; cringe-comedy made a roaring entrance onto the scene with stuff like Christopher Guest movies and The Office, even as it's begun to phase itself out; and bathroom humor remains the nadir of the art form, except when someone like Mel Brooks or, really, even William Shakespeare gets their hands on it.

A comedy of errors, though, remains as a standard of the genre, insinuating itself in everything from Marx Brothers movies to cut-rate romantic comedies. Farcically confusing one person for another person, one situation for another - what, in a bad movie, Roger Ebert would call an "idiot plot" - this is all inspired by William Shakespeare's appropriately titled A Comedy of Errors. In director Kristie Worthey and Lakewood Playhouse's production of the classic play, our frantic actors find themselves in modern day Portland, and all of the hipster affectations that implies.

Working largely from the original Shakespeare text, A Comedy of Errors finds its perpetually confused cast confronted with two sets of twins, separated at birth, suddenly inhabiting the same city at the same time. One set of twins is visiting from the warring city of Seattle, while the other twins have made their home in the Rose City. Gentle ribbing of the rival cities ensues, though the main thrust of the story doesn't diverge too awfully much into anachronistic asides.

One audience member remarked to her companion, after the play had finished, that she had no idea what was going on. Needless to say, this can be a somewhat difficult play to keep ahead of, though falling into the rhythm of Shakespeare's complexity is part of the joy. As the two twin leads, Ben Stahl (Antipholus) and Frank Roberts (Dromio) have a firm hand on the language of the play, acting as anchors to a play that otherwise features a very young cast of high school students.

It's in the inclusion of these young actors - mostly playing street vendors in the manner of a Greek chorus, actively engaging the audience in seeming ad-libs - that this production most fumbles. While the young actors are quite game to riff, and their energy is palpable, there are moments that get too cutesy for my taste. Throwing such loose moments into an otherwise rigorously staged production lends a bit of dissonance that doesn't always quite work.

As Antipholus' wife Adriana, Jodie Chapin makes an impression, as does her sister Luciana, as played by Nastassia Reynolds. This foursome of the twins and Chapin and Reynolds represents the play at its strongest, despite occasionally delightful performances from the rest of the cast.

I'm not entirely convinced of the necessity to move this play to the modern times, as I think it ultimately distracted from what is already a complicated farce. Still, there's an admirable effort to shake up the proceedings, which makes the production anything but boring.

Lakewood Playhouse, Nov. 6-29, Friday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday 2 p.m., Pay What You Can Thursdays, Nov. 12 and 19, 8 p.m., $19-$25, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, 253.588.0042