Of all Shakespeare's plays, this is the most amenable to a radical directorial concept. One of the most inventive was staged at the Grove Shakespeare Festival in the 1980s, with a Star Trek takeoff that was funny and fitting. This version is almost as solid, framed with modern costuming in front of a large television set and using shtick with early '50s TV references. It's outrageously campy and usually very funny.
The noble twins, Antipholus of Ephesus (John Edwin Shaw) and Antipholus of Syracuse (Joe Garcia), wear narrow-lapelled business suits, slender ties, and dark fedoras. Their twin servants, the Dromios (Stephen Brewster, Brandon Ford Green), wear bright orange overalls and red baseball caps. The boys from Syracuse arrive in Ephesus not knowing their long-separated brothers are living a mirror life there, and that's when the fun begins.
Even stick-in-the-mud Shakespearean folk may find director Hope Alexander's staging amusing. It's also a marvelous vehicle to introduce young people to the Bard. It's their kind of humor, and it gets its sure laughs from older audiences, too. Without altering Shakespeare's dialogue, Alexander has moments when Antipholus of Syracuse sets his Dromio on his knee and converses with him as a ventriloquist and his dummy. Later when his Dromio, stunned by the romantic attentions of his twin's fiancee, a fat kitchen wench, is asked by his boss to describe her, the Bard's dialogue becomes a quiz-show question-and-answer takeoff. These moments, without reason but with comedic insight, are matched throughout with similar bent-Bard moments, prominently a short silent film on the immense TV screen envisioning the lengthy tale of Egeon (Tony Burton) on how his twin sons and their slave twins were separated when babes.
It makes a merry playground for the company while at the same time respecting the text. Standouts are Shaw and Garcia as the Antipholuses, played dead center to the text but reveling in slapstick, often to the point of mugging, especially Garcia as his brother's wife gives him a wedgie. The Dromios are kinetic, often hilarious, both fine physical comic actors. The show's outlandish concept works for the very reason that it has the courage of its own outlandishness, with a tongue-in-cheek approach that even allows the stodgy police officer (Jon Bastian) to suddenly become the bare-chested lead dancer in a sly slap at Riverdance.