"The Comedy of Errors" may well be the funniest of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and "King Lear" may well be the most tragic. Getting to see both of them in one startling day is to see the breadth of Shakespeare and the diversity of his canon that has given so much to the world for four centuries.
Door Shakespeare, the fourth of the Equity theaters in Door County, unveiled both plays Saturday in one action packed, startling few hours that drove home just how marvelous this company is.
The afternoon began with "The Comedy of Errors," a twisting tale of identical twins and mistaken identities that has all of the elements of a classic farce, except for crashing doors. It has doors, but they don’t crash.
One of the most difficult tasks for any company doing Shakespeare – and especially difficult for young directors – is how to make the language understandable while being true to the tenor and tone of the story.
"Comedy of Errors" has a tenor and tone of great humor, with lines and jokes that sneak up on you. You find yourself smiling, then chuckling and then laughing out loud.
Leda Hoffmann, a young Milwaukee director, leaves her imprint on the play with clear language and with every single laugh in the script. It’s a rare achievement for any director, especially a young one. She guides her cast with steady hand but doesn’t restrict the actors' freedom to play.
And play they do.
The story concerns a pair of identical twins: Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse, and Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse. As you can understand just from that set up, the entire plays is drenched in mistaken identities. The backdrop is the tale of woe from Egeon, who had the two pair of identical twins with his wife Emilia. At sea, a storm swept away his wife, one Antipholus and one Dromio.
Throw in a couple of merchants, a spurned courtesan, Adriana the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus and her sister Luciana her sister, and you’ve got enough characters all spinning plates in the air. The performance by Elyse Edelman, who plays Luciana, is absolutely priceless. While her sister whirls and twirls, she is the picture of bewilderment, embarrassment, curiosity and quiet lust. Without a single word, Edelman draws laughs just with her face and body.
The cast is universally strong with a couple of standouts: Michael Perez, who plays Antipholus of Ephesus, and Jennefer Ludwigsen, who plays the troubled courtesan like a hooker who found an empty envelope on the dressing table after her customer has left. Meanwhile, Perez has a presence on stage that belongs to only a few and has a facile voice the swoops and swoons with magnificent control and precision.
The audience in the lovely 180-seat outdoor theater was delighted throughout the play, embracing both the spirit and the passions of this performance.
90 minutes after "Comedy" ended, "King Lear" came roaring and stumbling into the playing space with enough treachery for the best and most intricate of stories.
The old King of Britain, recognizing his aging, plans to divide his kingdom among each of his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and the youngest, Cordelia. The two oldest daughters flatter the old man with the kind of over-the-top and competitive words of love. The king falls easily for the false adoration. Recognizing the lies behind the love, Cordelia refuses to profess her love for the king and is banished from the kingdom by her father.
Thus, the scheming begins. Husbands, wives, two Earls, a bastard son, a couple of Dukes and an overwhelming fool begin the machinations that result in death, blindness, pain and sorrow. It also includes the famed Shakespearean tactic of "the truth will out."
"Lear" is a play that demands a marvelous supporting cast, but also demands an actor of great stature and ability to play the king.
Richard Ooms, who also directed, is a rare actor who captured the nuances of Lear. So often, the king is played from the get-go as a feeble wreck. But Ooms, who has a lengthy career with the Guthrie Theatre, understands that the early Lear will only make more dramatic the Lear who dies at the end.
Along the way, Lear slides slowly in the madness as he watches the world around him disintegrate into jealousy and betrayal. His descent is obvious to everyone, and they line up to take advantage of what’s left of the king.
Ooms has all of the gravitas required of Lear, bounding about early as a king still in charge of both his kingdom and his life. He is an actor of marvelous depth.
"Lear" truly is a play about a man and his daughters, and all three of them create sisters who are clearly defined and identified.
As the oldest sister Goneril, Leslie Ann Handelman uses her immense skills to set a new standard for both evil and disloyalty. She is a Chicago actor in her third season with Door Shakespeare and will hopefully be around for many more.
Ludwigsen plays Regan, the middle daughter who is in the middle on the treachery scale as well. Her taking up the opposition and deceit toward her father is a bonding moment with Goneril. But betrayal lurks, and Ludwigsen has a scene where she is poisoned that is gut wrenching.
As the baby of the group, Victoria Caciopoli has a wonderful vulnerability mixed with a steel backbone that refuses to be cowed by her strong, demanding sisters. Her loyalty is about the only virtue on the stage all evening.
No review of this production would be complete without talking about Milwaukee’s Jason Fassl, perhaps the busiest – and one of the finest – lighting designers in the country.
The playing space at Door Shakespeare is a small circle of wood chips, with minor set props and dominated by a gnarled, imposing oak tree that towers over the stage. Without a detailed set, something has to set the scene for the play.
It’s hard to describe what the sophisticated and meaningful aura Fassl created in the outdoor space. The lights dim and shine and flash while there is thunderous storms and quiet drama. It’s almost as if the play belongs to the lights. Fassl is an incredible storyteller with no dialogue, just with lights. He has an intimate instinct for just what a story is calling for.
After several years of inertia, Door Shakespeare is on the way back with the energetic Amy Ludwigsen (the sister of Jennefer), who has brought a passion and dedication to her position of executive director. She is smart and creative about the business end of things, but he has a lengthy career in theater and understands the marriage of the two.
Great talent, great plays, a wonderful space and dedicated leadership spell nothing but good things for Door Shakespeare. It makes a worthy visit for theater fans throughout Wisconsin.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Oct. 21, 2014
The Green Bay Packers destroyed the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and were leading, 21-0, after one quarter. It led me to wonder: is it better, or more fun to watch, a rout or a nail-biter.
Published Oct. 20, 2014
It was just a rehearsal - no costumes, no set, no orchestra, no chorus, no plush seats, no lights on stage. As a matter of fact, there was no stage at all, just a piano. And the whole thing was in German. In spite of all of those things that weren't there, the thing that was there was a fascinating story and some amazing voices that told the story with such romance and strength that I followed the whole thing from my folding chair.
Published Oct. 19, 2014
From "Romeo and Juliet" to "Love Story," the tale of youngsters who fall in love, only to see death and a search for meaning in it all is so often told that it seems to have become almost a cliche of itself. But when that story gets mixed with history and put into the hands of a small coterie of very creative people, the story creates the kind of theatrical magic that comes only on occasion. That's what happened when "Amelia" opened Saturday night.
Published Oct. 18, 2014
Most of the time when a play opens, it's easy to figure out who the star is - usually an actor with a major part. Sometimes, the star can be something else, like a director or a composer or a costume designer. Rarely would anybody pick a lighting designer as the star, unless they see the wonderful production of "Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars" that opened the season for First Stage.
Published Oct. 17, 2014
Alchemist Theatre billed "Suicide Sleep"as its Halloween show, but nobody in the audience was trembling or closing their eyes to keep phantoms away. Instead, they were all on the edge of their seats - as was I - riveted with curiosity about just where this journey was going to take us.
Published Oct. 16, 2014
The second and last televised debate between Scott Walker and Mary Burke is tomorrow night from 7 to 8 p.m. and I've got a couple of suggestions for you. Walk your dog. Clip your toenails. Call your mother. Organize your kitchen cupboard. Order a pizza. Clean out your email folders. Sleep. Anything! Anything to avoid this farce being perpetrated on the people of Wisconsin.
Published Oct. 14, 2014
I support the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in its battle to keep the old Milwaukee Arena (now the UWM Panther Arena) from meeting the wrecking ball in order to build a new Downtown arena. One, I love the building's history. Two, there is a better spot for a new arena.
Published Oct. 13, 2014
There's hardly anything I admire more than a chef who can take wildly different flavors, put them on a plate and serve something that is more delicious than you ever imagined. That admiration was reinforced Friday when I stopped for breakfast at Peter Sandroni's Engine Company No. 3.
Published Oct. 13, 2014
Liban has had quite a 50 years. He's been up and down and up and down and up. He's faced substance abuse, charlatan promoters, empty promises, dark and dingy clubs, big stages, European tours, the death of a loved one, some racial uncertainties and eventually his present state of comfort. If that sounds like a blues song, it's because his life has been like a great tune.
Published Oct. 12, 2014
There's this thing about cheap jokes: They can either be just cheap jokes, or they can be incredibly funny cheap jokes. And it's the incredibly funny kind that fill the two-plus hours of "Shear Madness," what may well be the longest running non-musical play in history.