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Review: 'The Comedy of Errors' charms at Free Shakespeare festival

August 15, 2012|By Charlotte Stoudt
  • David Melville, left, Mary Guilliams and Ashley Nguyen in 'The Comedy of Errors' at the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival.
David Melville, left, Mary Guilliams and Ashley Nguyen in 'The Comedy… (Grettel Cortes )

There are episodes of “Family Guy” with more depth than “The Comedy of Errors,” but that doesn’t keep the Independent Shakespeare Company from having a ball at its free outdoor festival in Griffith Park.

A reboot of two ancient Roman comedies, “Errors” is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, and you can see the young writer trying to master the mechanics of farce. Let’s start with the high-concept premise: A merchant (Joseph Culliton) and his wife (Bernadette Sullivan) have twin sons and adopt a second pair of twins as their offspring’s menservants. After a shipwreck scatters the family, the merchant searches for his clan for years, ending up in Ephesus, where his two lost sons and their sidekicks just happen to be — all unknown to each other. 

ISC sets its production on a small Mediterranean island circa 1945, and the effect plays like an Italian neo-realist film, heightened by the iconic silhouettes of Kate Bishop’s costumes.

Director Melissa Chalsma’s fizzy cast plays like a soda can shaken and sprayed, especially home team twin set (André Martin and Bobby Plasencia), their visiting counterparts (Sean Pritchett and Richard Azurdia), and David Melville as an unhinged physician whose oaths aren’t exactly Hippocratic.

Adding to the evening’s charm is an onstage band featuring Mary Guilliams and Ashley Nguyen, glam girls in floral cheongsams. With their Hawaiian-style harmonies — think the Andrew Sisters at a luau — this six-piece combo offers a sweet contrast to play’s breathless slapstick, but also sings its subtext.

Beyond the rants and nyuck nyuck-wallops, everyone in “Errors” is in search of something: family, fidelity, or at least adequate medical care. You will understand what I mean if you sit in the front row.

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“The Comedy of Errors” Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival, The Old Zoo, 4730 Crystal Spring Drive, Los Angeles. 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. See website for exact performance schedule. Ends Sept. 1. Free. Contact: (818) 710-6306 or www.iscla.org  Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes. 

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