The Comedy of Errors
1989: Richard Monette
This is one of those filmed from the Canadian Stratford festival, and it’s elegant and polished, but also quite demonstrably something filmed during a live performance (or a sequence of live performances). It is very mannered: it’s delivered in a broad spapstick manner reminiscent of the commedia dell’arte — full of visual gags, fast patter, and gestural humor, which really fits the play as it was written. Occasionally the characters will hold up signs. Sometimes they’ll indulge in a fit of hiccups and belches. The only thing I can think of that’s on the same wavelength is probably the version of The Taming of the Shrew with Marc Singer and Fredi Olster from the American Conservatory Theater (1976). The latter is somewhat more athletic and faster-paced, but it’s a delight to watch on its own terms.
In addition to the basic style of delivery, the play is costumed (for no apparent reason) in late-eighteenth-century garb, and accompanied (equally inexplicably) by snippets of Bach, most of it sung by the cast in a way reminiscent of the Swingle Singers. (One can measure the drunkenness of certain characters by the degeneration of their ability to sing the music.) Again, it adds to the whimsy of the whole, and it certainly doesn’t really take away anything important from the play. It’s not clear that there was anything really important to it to start with, in point of fact. A play like this doesn’t really require a lot of deep thought.
One interesting feature of the production design was to have both of the Antipholi played by one actor for the bulk of the play, and both Dromios (Dromiones?) played by one actor as well, bringing in a second one of each in for the Ephesus pair when they need to be onstage at the same time. Certainly this lends to their plausibility in closeup shots (probably not as much an issue onstage, but the intimacy of the Stratford theater is such that it makes a certain amount of sense).
All in all, it’s hard to take this too seriously, but then again, it’s not clear what a serious rendition of The Comedy of Errors would be like. It’s a redoubled echo of Plautus’s Menaechmi, and it’s a lot of fun...but not a deep intellectual experience. The young Shakespeare is here having fun with whimsical plotting and with the language, but he’s not doing anything deep. Just enjoy it. This mannered and whimsical production reminds you that it’s okay just to do that.
Adriana: Goldie Semple
Aegeon: Nicholas Pennell
Aemilia: Wenna Shaw
Angelo; Second Goth: Douglas Chamberlain
Antipholus of Ephesus: Jerry Etienne (uncredited)
Antipholus of Ephesus; Antipholus of Syracuse: Geordie Johnson
Balthazar: Andrew Jackson
Courtesan: Susan Henley
Dromio of Ephesus: Eric Coates (uncredited)
Dromio of Ephesus; Dromio of Syracuse: Keith Dinicol
Duke of Ephesus: James Blendick
Gaoler: Hubert Kelly
Luce: Kate Hennig
Luciana: Lucy Peacock
Officer: Michael Hanrahan
Pinch: Joseph Shaw
Spanish Merchant: Juan Chioran