"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 Dec. 3, 2016
I got my first escort. Not the old Ford, but a woman who works as a professional escort.The call came to pick up a fare near the airport about 7:30 in the morning. I pulled up to the address and after waiting for about five minutes a woman named Lora came out.
Published Dec. 3, 2016
A brand spanking new production of "A Christmas Carol" floated into the Pabst Theater on the wings of a cast of hundreds, an actual snowfall and a Ghost of Christmas Past who melts into the floor right before our very eyes. It's a stunning production.
Published Dec. 2, 2016
The church doors are open and all are welcome, but be prepared to hold onto your hat, tap your foot, bob your head and even find yourself singing along with the choir. It's the second year of "Black Nativity," being mounted by Black Arts MKE and the Marcus Center.
Published Nov. 28, 2016
A couple of weeks ago the vice-president elect, Mike Pence, attended a performance of the hit show "Hamilton" on Broadway. After the performance, one of the actors delivered a short lecture to Pence. That sparked a discussion among Milwaukee artists.
Published Nov. 28, 2016
Nobody does family theater better than First Stage, and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical" is a perfect example. Running at the Marcus Center, the production is full of the wonder that keeps families riveted to the stage.
Published Nov. 26, 2016
One of the most interesting things about each of our lives is how we grow, shrink and change from one thing to another to another and another. It's on full display at a deep and moving production of "Lobby Hero" that opened at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre over the weekend.
Published Nov. 23, 2016
The answer to a flying sleigh, and other Christmas mysteries, lies in "Elf," the musical running at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. And when you get down to it, the whole thing is really pretty simple as we find out from an elf named Buddy.
Published Nov. 22, 2016
As November has finally pushed our long summer out of the way and the Downtown Christmas Parade has marched down Wisconsin Avenue, it is time to turn our attention to two of the most beloved artistic holiday traditions in the city.
Published Nov. 21, 2016
Nobody would ever call "La Cage Aux Folles" a holiday show, but as staged by Skylight Music Theater with a couple of magical stars, it's a warm-hearted and very funny tale of what it means to be in a family - both the benefits and the responsibilities.
Published Nov. 20, 2016
Sometimes a hokey, predictable and heartwarming story is just what the doctor ordered for a spirit worn out by conflict and controversy - and that's just what you get with "unSilent Night," the locally written play running at Next Act Theatre.