Shakespeare inspires many things but rarely the response, "It's over? Already?" Ben Donenberg has wrought a minor miracle with this production, ripping through the show in less than 90 minutes and yet losing not a bit of clarity. While it is primarily the whiz-bang direction, some of the credit goes to actor Paula Jai Parker, who achieves that deliciously heightened state in which her speech is about 10 times the normal human rate yet every syllable, every thought, is perfectly understandable. She manages this while also being responsible for some serious product placement for the folks at Jose Cuervo.
This is the story of the two sets of twins—one master, one slave—separated in infancy during a shipwreck. Both sets find themselves, unbeknownst to each other, in the city of Ephesus (or, in best city-funded style, "Los Ephesus during Dia de Los Muertos," a colorful albeit odd conceit) at the same time. Hijinks ensue.
While the performances are superb across the board, this production is predominantly a director's game. Donenberg has cut the extraneous while adding a wealth of clever directorial touches. He even manages to integrate a gospel choir so well that it seems as if there had always been one. Donenberg treats Snezana Petrovic's set like some sort of magician's box, making actors appear and disappear at a dizzying rate. The set, by the way, is a marvel, drenched in hot tropical colors and executed with great humor. The sound, which is usually a problem at an outdoor venue, couldn't have been clearer (David Reyna on the mixing board).
Michael Manuel, playing the part of Antipholus of Syracuse, has a truly beautiful voice and nicely essays the part of the hapless stranger in town who meets up with all sorts of inexplicable situations. One could almost say exactly the same thing of Norm Manual as Antipholus of Ephesus, who is well matched with Parker as his wife, Adriana. They are an utterly believable shrill and shallow couple. As Dromio of Syracuse, Brian Joseph is a warm and comic presence, almost a direct contrast to the equally talented William Joseph, who creates a Dromio of Ephesus who functions as an insufferably smug major-domo. Judith Scott makes a perfect foil as Adriana's sister, Luciana, a woman of great heart and lovely, honeyed tones, while Tony Pandolfo, as the goldsmith Angelo, finds all the humor in the character's increasingly befuddling circumstances.
The costumes of Alex Jaeger are quite clever, especially the creepy variations on a wedding dress that he puts on the deliciously vampy Courtesan played by Jennifer Seifert. The choreography (Kay Cole) and fighting (Randy Kovitz) flow so naturally from the proceedings that we hardly notice them. Trevor Norton's lights play up the heat and energy of the production. Best of all, when we think the show is over, the cast gets together to sing "Hooray for Ephesus," so we can even go home humming a tune. This is practically error-free comedy.
"The Comedy of Errors," presented by Shakespeare Festival/LA at Pershing Square, 532 S. Olive St., Downtown L.A. Wed.-Sun. 8 p.m. July 5-July 22. Free.