Shakespeare's shortest and earliest comedy makes a good choice for Fleabitten Productions' second annual, open-air, free-for-all summer romp. It is filled with audience-pleasers: mixups, physical comedy, romance, and wit. Adding a twist to the casting is an all-female roster (save one).
Prior to the play, singers, jugglers, and strolling players entertain the members of the crowd as they set up their lawn chairs and snacks in preparation for the production. (In my case, a fortuneteller correctly stated the number and sex of my children, and a well-intentioned minstrel created a little ditty using my name.)
Keeping it light, director Gregory Cohen has his actors use a felt board to help explain the fairly complicated backstory Shakespeare introduces at the beginning of this play of mistaken identities and implausible plot twists. He would have us believe that Antipholus of Ephesus (Ivana Karapandzic) and his servant Dromio (Kellie Nitkin) could have identical counterparts, Antipholus of Syracuse (Elspeth Carden) and his Dromio (Chrisi Talyn). When they converge in Ephesus, the resultant confusions add the humor that has made this play often imitated and still amiable.
The youthful ensemble handles Cohen's brisk pacing well. If there is a drawback, it might be in Cohen's expansive blocking of the scenes. Cleverly using two domed camping tents as offstage concealers in the open plaza, he underuses them. Instead his actors have much work traversing the vast space in exits and entrances, often losing lines until they reach the central stage. The play would be better served with a tighter focus.
Costumer Cheryl Sheldon and Wedding Bells authenticates the era with colorful costumes and similar garb to help identify the twins. In particular, the lone male (Jara Jones) is given a boost with effective gowns to hide his identity.
This sprightly outdoor farce helps keep the summer tradition of Shakespeare in the park alive. At just a little over an hour, it makes a fine family treat.
Presented by Fleabitten Productions and the Bellflower Theatre Company in association with the city of Bellflower at the Town Center Civic Plaza, 9831 Belmont St., Bellflower. Sat.-Sun. 1 & 5 p.m. Jun. 4-18. Free; reservations not required. (562) 867-3524.