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Theater | Stage Review

Oh, What a Circus

Shakespeare's antic 'Comedy of Errors' becomes a roisterous big-top show.

July 15, 1999|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The gently rolling slopes of Thousand Oaks are alive with the sound of Shake-sphere. Now in its third season, the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival, on the grounds of California Lutheran University, is presenting "Comedy of Errors" in repertory with "Macbeth." Except for a few reserved seats near the front of the stage, the festival is free to the public.

Such a bargain. Although occasionally shrill, Allan Hunt's staging of "Comedy of Errors," which revolves around the running gag of double sets of twins separated at birth, is more often bright, glitzy and purely fun, a roisterous romp suitable for the entire family.

Hunt sets the production in 1910, in an American traveling circus near Atlantic City. The choice seems largely arbitrary. The only true hints we have of the time frame lie in Sally Willingham's colorful circus costumes and Rick Rhodes' excellent original music, which ingeniously mingles music of that period and contemporary sounds. But the setting provides Hunt with a perfectly good excuse to festoon the stage with jugglers, acrobats, strongmen and pirouetting girls in gauzy attire--eye candy that sweetens the proceedings for kids who may sometimes lose track of the convoluted story structure.

Considering that this is an outdoor production, the technical elements are particularly impressive. Never overwhelming us with sheer volume, Gary Raymond's sound design makes the performers crisply intelligible throughout. The handsomely appointed stage, courtesy of scenic designers Alan Toll and Jess Osier, features billowing circus tents that are not only eye-catching, but stand up nicely in a high wind. Gary Mintz's cheerful lighting completes the scene--but the real light show is the star-strewn sky above.

Like horses in a trick riding act, the huge and energetic cast is put smartly through its paces by Hunt, who obviously believes that more is more. In this case, it is. Despite a few slow points, Hunt's sprawling staging is big, broad and consistently diverting.

As Adriana, the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, Jennifer Grimes is appropriately baffled and enraged. David Knell is fine as her equally confused husband, and Brett Elliott is a properly stalwart young hero as Antipholus of Syracuse. All play comedy well, but the comic honors go, as they should, to Marc Silver and Mark Blankfield as the two Dromios. Round-faced characters in gaudy attire, they vault through the proceedings like Tweedledee and Tweedledum on a spree, pratfalling and double-taking with all the panache of master clowns.

BE THERE

"Comedy of Errors," California Lutheran University's Kingsmen Park, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks. Friday, July 23-25, 8 p.m. Grounds open at 5:30 p.m. for picnics. Free. (Reserved seats $10.) (805) 493-3415. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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