With Centaur Theatre holding the knife, the face of one of Shakespeare’s plays has been changed forever. More than just some nip and tuck, it seems The Comedy of Errors, has gotten a complete face transplant, barely resembling its old self. And younger isn’t always better.
The Comedy of Errors playing at The Centaur Theatre is your classic Parent Trap premise, only with less freckles. One twin is constantly being mistaken for the other and confusion ensues until it all ends happily ever after.
The play involves the separation, then reunion, of Egeon and Emelia (husband and wife), their twin sons Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse, and their twin servants, Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse. Thirty-three years before the action of the play begins, the family is separated at sea during a storm. As it opens, they have been searching for each other, separately, for seven years, and it’s all downhill from there.
Directors must comprehend the playwright and his work to be successful, and this production missed the mark. The concept was supposed to be futuristic: think Shakespeare-meets-Star Trek. Ideas for production come from what’s been written on the page, so did Shakespeare have Mounties, hand-sanitizer pumps and a Bixi bike in mind when writing this masterpiece? Nope. That was the work of director Peter Hinton who went for cheap laughs, with bits like Lady Gaga (Balthazar) singing along to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” One needn’t create a hokey 21st century adaptation for the play to be relevant to audiences today
The acting is what carried the show. Casting was spot on and the pacing of the production was steeped in perfection. “Twas an unusual choice to have both Dromios played by women, but alas Danielle Desormeaux and Debra Kirshenbaum are impeccable. Andreas Apergis and Marcel Jeannin, respectively Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse provide first-rate hilarity with their slapstick antics.
The Centaur stage is adorned with sheet metal covering every inch of the place from floor to ceiling. The metal walls are interchangeable, at one point turning into a bar. The stage looks more like a trendy nightclub than a scene from a Shakespeare play. If all this was an attempt to appeal to a more youthful demographic, it failed.
The eerie music that creeps in when something serious is being said and the lightning and thunder that sprang from nowhere at a moment of intensity was ineffective. These not-so-subtle musical cues spoon-feed the audience by telling them what is coming next and how to feel accordingly.
The transitions were horrendous; for instance, a bunch of Darth Vader look-alikes, draped in full costume, move about the stage indicating the end of an act and exit to indicate the start of a new one.
There were a few half-hearted chuckles when Balthazar as Lady Gaga first walked out on stage, but the inclusion of the pop star was more offensive than anything. The same sort of shameless pandering occurred when one of the Dromios developed a Quebecois accent for a line or two. The play is already a comedy, it need not be so contrived.
Overall, the new age adaptation of The Comedy of Errors felt a little trite. The futuristic approach serves as a distraction from Shakespeare’s poetic prose: the Bard and cellphones just don’t go. And be warned: visit the washroom beforehand. This two-hour slaughter-fest of Shakespeare’s work runs without an intermission.
The Comedy of Errors at Centaur Theatre, 453 St. FranÃ§ois Xavier St., runs until March 28. Tickets are $24 for students and $31 to $43 for adults.