Thwack! Thwack! The hollow sound of rolled up newspaper striking craniums large and small resounded during the Red Deer College production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.
If Antipholus wasn’t beating his confused servant Dromio, then Antipholus himself was getting brained with the same newspaper by some woman claiming to be his wife.
To add insult to injury, the woman’s sister took over the cranial clubbing when Antipholus continued to deny being married — adding more thwacks! to the already sizable count.
By the time the dazed — and possibly concussed — Antipholus was marched off stage by his supposed wife, the mood of the play that opened Thursday at the Red Deer College Arts Centre’s Studio A was pretty much established.
This comedy, re-set in the Mad Men era of the early 1960s, was as frothy and light as a Pink Lady, Lime Rickey or any other gin-infused cocktail that would have gotten guzzled by fedora-wearing executives during extended “business” lunches.
Much like the episode of TV’s Gilligan’s Island with two look-alike Gingers, or the Bewitched episodes featuring Samantha’s doppelganger cousin, Serena, the audience will soon figure out there are two Antipholuses, as well as two Dromios, in this comedy about two sets of identical twins who are separated shortly after birth.
We, the viewers, know this, but the hapless Antipholus and Dromio of the city state of Ephesus and the corresponding Antipholus and Dromio, who have travelled from the rival city state of Syracuse, of course don’t.
They spend most of this two-act farce getting more and more befuddled about why people they have never before laid eyes on are making increasingly bizarre demands of them.
For good or bad, this RDC Theatre Studies production, directed by Jeff Page, marches along briskly to a snappy, scoobie-doo-wah pace set by the breezy instrumental (read elevator) music from the era.
It’s a good thing because no one in the audience could possibly get bored during this one-hour, 30-minute production that eventually parades out a go-go-booted courtesan, a bespectacled nun and a beatnik exorcist, complete with his team of voodoo-packing assistants.
But it can also be a bad thing when actors rush through their lines — especially as the action gets more frenzied in the second act.
Shakespearean dialogue can be hard enough to follow, and this play contains enough inherent confusion that all the lines need to be perfectly understood for audience members to get the finer plot points — something about a Courtesan’s ring, a gold chain and money changing hands, yada yada. …
Once all speeches are slowed and dialogue is clearly delivered, I predict all will be well in the kingdom of Ephesus — which was imaginatively envisioned in the cubist/expressionist style of artist Paul Klee by set designer Daniela Masellis.
The cast of second-year students are to be commended for their ability to pull off Page’s madcap ’60s-era vision, as well as the farcical spirit of Shakespeare’s comedy of mixed-up identities.
Some acting standouts are Jake Tkaczyk and Richard Leurer as the two Antipholuses, Jennifer Suter and Brittany Martyshuk as the Dromios, Constance Isaac as Luciana, Megan Einarson as the coquettish go-go Courtesan, and Julia Van Dam as the Duke.
Victoria Day, as Adriana, gets across her character’s intense frustration, but not so much her insane jealousy.
JP Lord, who opens the play as Egeon, father to the two Antipholuses, captures his age and desolation, but needs to infuse his riveting tale of a storm at sea that rips his ship apart with more colour and pathos.
Considering the early ’60s time period, colour is what the costumes, co-ordinated by Donna Jopp, are all about — from wildly floral mini dresses to nattily plaid sweater vests, chess-piece like pill box hats and toe-pinching pumps with stiletto heels.
(When you really stop and think about it, surely there are a lot of things from that era we don’t miss.)
The play continues to Oct. 19.