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THEATER REVIEW / 'THE COMEDY OF ERRORS' : Double Dose of Fun : The Santa Paula play, a Shakespearean farce focusing on two sets of twins, is entertaining on its own, rather modest terms.


"The Comedy of Errors," now playing at the Santa Paula Theater Center, is Shakespeare for people who want to dip their toes in slowly. A farce centered on confusion among two sets of twins, it's plenty easy to follow. Under the direction of Tom Hall, this modern-dress production of Shakespeare's shortest play runs under two hours, including intermission: It doesn't take much less time to absorb the Cliff Notes version.

Many local Shakespeare producers include synopses to help audiences keep up with the characters. Santa Paula doesn't supply one, and it's not really needed. But here is one, anyway: Aegon (or "Egeon," as the Santa Paula folk have it) is arrested upon arrival in the town of Ephesus, for no reason other than that he hails from Syracuse. He explains that he's there searching for his wife, their identical twin sons and their identical twin servants, all of whom have disappeared over the years: the first wife, son and servant in a shipwreck, and the second son and servant in an effort to find them.

Unbeknown to anybody, one son and servant are longtime residents of Ephesus, where the son has married and the servant is enamored of the family cook.

For most of the play, various members of the quartet (Egeon's wife still MIA) confuse one another and everybody else, leading to equal portions of embarrassment and merriment. By the end, everything is straightened out, Egeon's wife pops up, and all is well.

It's the embarrassment and merriment that's fun to watch, and Hall and his cast provide much of both.

Traditionally, the two sets of twins are played by two pair of actors; those directors who choose to use one pair of actors and two slightly different costumes, as Hall has, need to rewrite only one scene toward the end of the play where Shakespeare has the two pairs meet.

Vincent Wares plays both Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse; Larry C. Wright is especially effective as slaves Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse: Why each father gave his twin sons identical names is unexplained, but the play wouldn't have worked had it been otherwise.

Jill Macy is Adriana, wife of the Ephesian Antipholus, with Brenda Kenworthy her sister, Luciana. Pierre Le Blade is OK as Aegon, and Judy Heiliger is even better as the Abbess who helps solve the mystery of who's who.

A good deal of the confusion centers around a neck chain commissioned by Antipholus of Ephesus, who (given the contemporary dress of this version) evidently aspires to emulate the look of Isaac Hayes or Bob Guccione. Irv Citron appears as Angelo, the goldsmith, and Tom Obeid portrays the merchant to whom Angelo owes money as a thuggish loan shark.

The main problem is the lack of a cast that's consistently competent at reading Shakespearean dialogue. While some members--including virtually all of the leading players--do so well enough, several of the supporting actors speak in a sing-song manner and split their sentences at the end of what would be lines on a printed page. A better understanding of what they're talking about would help considerably.

The stage set, designed by Jeff Garcia, is a nice replication of a village square, and if the characters' clothes--credited to Sabrina Wilson--look as though they were grabbed willy-nilly from the Theater Center's costume closet, it's evidently what director Hall had in mind.

This isn't the best Shakespeare to be found in Ventura County by quite a stretch--the distance to Moorpark's California Shakespeare Company, to be specific. But this production of "The Comedy of Errors" is good fun on its own, rather modest terms.


"The Comedy of Errors" continues through May 2 at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. 7th St. in Santa Paula. Performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday nights, with matinees at 2:30 Sundays. Tickets for all performances are $12.50; $10 for seniors, and $8 for students with I.D. For reservations or information, call 525-4645.

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