Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
CJSF volunteer Jessica Bruhn reviews the Bard on the Beach performance of the Comedy of Errors...
There's a reason Broadway wasn't around in Shakespeare's time, but clearly making the Elizabethan King's work accessible was the main objective in this year's production of The Comedy of Errors, directed by David Mackay and choreographed by Melissa Young. Yes, the play included many high-kick and cancanesque chorus lines set against some bizarre Doors rearrangements by droning Franciscan monks. If there was an adult continuing education course entitled Shakespeare for Beginner's, this over-spangled much adid about something production would be considered required reading -- or rather finger-snapping, slap-happy mind-muzzling fare for the poetically stunted. Other than the over the top injections of various 70's classics, there was the impressive Queen Elizabeth herself emerging ever so facetiously from the rough of it all. Embodied by the hammed up, dame-dragging Artistic Director and overall godfather of the festival, Christopher Gaze. If it weren't for the traces of the goatee and slightly sunken chest, very little would have differentiated them from her majesty today.
Despite the overall garishness of the set in the first act, complete with animatronic rats ala Value Village, there was the all too brief appearance of the falconer with the semi-convincing puppet whose head spins around Exorcist style to illustrate the cruelty of the fates in this great chain of being with sadistic laughter. Yes, the falcon laughs malevolently. And there's a bear that pisses all over Shakespeare's walking effigy. That's some sweet random styling, Will. Self-deprecation doesn't get any nobler. Esteemed performances go to the lesser line-bogged of them all: Allan Zinyk, an all time favourite clown as Nell -- the buxom and frankly terrifying girlfriend cook to both twin Dromio's -- and Dr. Pinch, complete with traditional beak mask and odd remedies for the madness. The majority of these remedies constitute bleeding as a cure-all, no surprises there. Cute and quirky, Ryan Beil was by far the crowd favourite, wracking his scene mates with only barely restrained envy as his impeccable comic timing and sheer physicality is indeed comedy and not error.
Amber Lewis makes a refreshing new addition to a somewhat recycled cast, as the '16th century whore' so aptly introduced by the disembodied Franciscan choir. Her scintillating record of dissolution with our main protagonist, Antipholus of Ephius, is well worth the wait for her entrance in Act II. It is at this point that the tedious dichotomy of the wifely battle axe and humble virgin are about to have me pantomiming my way out. Parnelli Parnes (Chinese merchant), Neil Maffin (curiously senile monk, Egeon) and Luisa Jojic as Abbess and mother to both Antipholus twins separated after a massive storm at sea, were also well received. A self-referential jester's hat which served as house, church, town and bedroom backdrop was a unique element that helped facilitate fast scene changes and most of all, a miniature puppet stage. It is the puppets that excuse 'People Are Strange' to me, as by golly it was nice to see some old shadow play and slapstick after all that singing. Enmeshed within about every twenty minutes of dialogue was another textually reflexive parody one might witness at the Renaissance Fair. As all players danced about the stage to a pipe flute to mock the stereotyped tradition of the bard, I couldn't help thinking how refreshing some of this was -- shockingly cheesy, yes -- but also perhaps somewhat relevant.
As only us English majors take pleasure in translating rapid Shakespeare as it plays out before us, I could observe others in the audience suddenly becoming aware of what was happening and laugh along at the right moments by these outrageous insertions of pop culture references. And isn't that what it's all about in the end? While a purist, I'm not so stodgy to deny others the same rush of excitement people must've felt sitting on one of the globe's seats, watching a crazed wife attack a simperingly oblivious Dromio. With that said, if you like improv, fantastic sound design and most of all irreverence in your Shakespeare, go see it before the end of the month. As one of the festivals most popular productions, I dare say it suits your common muck.