A Shakespeare comedy by the Bow

When the death knell rang for Mount Royal University’s theatre program earlier this year it also could have been curtains for that long-standing Calgary tradition Shakespeare in the Park.

That is were it not for Theatre Calgary. After two years co-presenting Shakespeare in the Park with Mount Royal Theatre Calgary stepped up to operate the newly named Shakespeare by the Bow. Though the name is different the program’s aim remains the same — to provide recent theatre graduates from Alberta post-secondary institutions a leg up in their transition to the world of professional theatre. Not only do they get a chance to present a work by the Bard they also receive focused training in several areas including voice movement and stage combat.

This year’s offering The Comedy of Errors runs in Prince’s Island Park until August 9. It tells the story of two sets of twins who because of a shipwreck are separated as babies. One set of twins Antipholus of Ephesus (Cole Hollinger) and Antipholus of Syracuse (Joel Taylor) are highborn while the other set of twins Dromio of Ephesus (Jeremy Hilsendager) and Dromio of Syracuse (Jacob Lesiuk) act as servants to their respective Antipholus. Audiences meet the twins in adulthood when Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse are on a quest to find their lost brothers.

They end up in Ephesus where unbeknownst to them their matching twins reside. And so ensues a whole lot of mistaken-identity mishaps with servants mistaking their masters masters mistaking their servants and even a wife Adriana (Merran Carr-Wiggin) mistaking her husband.

Thankfully the actors look sufficiently different from one another that audience members can keep the action straight. (Though of course it takes some suspension of disbelief to remember they are supposed to look so alike that even a wife can’t tell her own husband.)

Under the direction of Glynis Leyshon this production of one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays is spirited entertaining and in-your-face funny. It’s a perfect example of how if properly presented you don’t need to understand even half of Shakespeare’s passages to “get” the plot.

The physicality of the show with its slapstick humour (e.g. a spanking with a baseball bat anyone?) engages even the youngest audience members. And kudos to both Dromios who steal several scenes with their physical and gymnastic antics.

Leyshon has set the story in 1920s Sicily so the “bad guys” who are more humourous than anything else are dressed in mobster duds complete with comical machine guns. Among the production’s highlights are the live musical interludes including a comical and rousing quasi-exorcism scene in which the cast breaks out in a rendition of a well-known ditty from the musical Guys and Dolls. On a minor technical note however the musical interludes could stand to fade in and out less abruptly to make for more seamless transitions.

The production makes good use of its park setting — one reason Gleyshon says she was attracted to the project in the first place — particularly with the numerous entrances and exits conducted on scooter.

Despite the best efforts of the cast however the mistaken-identity “joke” does get old after a while especially if watching the show while rain clouds threaten above.

Leyshon says The Comedy of Errors is already one of Shakespeare’s briefest plays but she edited the text even further to fit into a 90-minute run time — that given the rather flimsy story is about as long as the show can sustain.

All in all watching The Comedy of Errors in the bucolic environs of Prince’s Island Park is a lovely way to spend a summer evening. As the show employs a “pay-what-you will” model Shakespeare on the Bow is truly a cultural gift to Calgary.

The schedule is online and the show will go on if it’s sprinkling but downpours and thunderstorms are cause for cancellation so follow @sbtbyyc on Twitter for updates.