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Shakespeare's lighter side to shine through in 'Comedy of Errors'

By Tehreem Sajjad, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 4, 2013

Imagine you’re in a strange city, unaware that your twin brother is there as well. Then, your brother’s wife mistakes you for him — but not before you’ve tried to seduce her sister.

William Shakespeare’s joyful work of mistaken identity, “The Comedy of Errors,” follows the fortunes of two sets of identical twins, accidentally separated at birth, and then miraculously brought back again. This week, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance takes its audience on a wild ride as “The Comedy of Errors” brings the absurdity and turbulent tales of Ephesus to Ann Arbor.

Most people know Shakespeare better for his numerous tragedies. “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” “Hamlet” and “King Lear” are only a few of his works that fall under that umbrella, considered some of the finest in English literature.

“The Comedy of Errors,” one of Shakespeare’s early plays, is a timeless comedy. Often, the play is described as a farce, critiqued for being an immature work lacking some thematic and poetic qualities of his later comedies, such as “Twelfth Night” and “As You Like It.”

“It’s interesting that Shakespeare wrote what’s considered, at this age of day, a farce,” said Director Joseph Neville-Andrews. “It’s also interesting that, if this is his first play, that he would select something very light and airy to write about. But then, of course, he went on to write the heavy-weights.”

At first glance, “The Comedy of Errors” seems like a predictable tale of mistaken identities and broad humor. Two sets of identical male twins (with the same names) are born to two couples, one poor and the other wealthy. During an ocean voyage, the twins are separated. As the play opens, the audience finds the four men in Ephesus, where they fall into trouble, confusion and eventually a warm reunion.

“The audience knows more than the actors on stage — we know that there are two sets of identical twins,” Neville-Andrews said. “And then we get to see the miscommunications and that brings the humor to the play.”

Shakespeare presents emotion-packed plots that generate anticipation and tension in his audience. In “The Comedy of Errors,” comic and dramatic potential that twins provide is beautifully realized. Having four actors serve the roles of protagonists makes it exasperating that nobody onstage can spot the glaring differences between them; while they don’t know each other, everyone in the audience seems to know them.

“I think it’s the fact that the audience knows ahead of time, but they just don’t know where the story is going to go,” Neville-Andrews said. “Is it going to be a happy ending? Even though the plot is quite simple, how do we get from A to Z? I think that’s what brings the joy and humor into the play.”