“A juxtaposition of serious and stupid” is how director John Walker, assistant professor of theater, described the semester’s main stage production, “The Comedy of Errors.”
Following on the heels of the Russian farce “The Government Inspector,” this show from William Shakespeare is also being played as a slapstick. Walker has taken inspiration from the Marx Brothers and Three Stooges to make Shakespeare’s comedy of mistaken identity even more hysterical.
“The Comedy of Errors” tells the story of two sets of identical twins who, after a lifetime of separation, find each other in one city on one day. Walker is providing a unique atmosphere by setting it at Mardi Gras, to aid in the identity confusion, in New Orleans in the 1980s. He’s also making the entire plot an elaborate prank.
“Usually it’s a complete accident that the two sets of twins meet up,” he said, “but I’m orchestrating it so that it’s a complete manipulation and prank. … The two servant twins have organized this giant cacophony of madness, but it gets out of their hands. That’s when the Church has to step in and fix everything.”
The elaborate set features one of the iconic New Orleans clocks, crafted from a manhole cover, on center stage. On top of it are two doll-size figures representing Death and Folly, as in the Mardi Gras parade. The servants frequently manipulate the time on the clock so as to confuse the other characters.
The set also includes sawhorses acting as parade barriers, and the servants are always moving those around so the actors don’t know where to go. The floor is covered in many shapes, painted in bright and garish Mardi Gras colors.
Through these exterior elements, Walker wants to emphasize the idea that “people aren’t really paying attention to what’s right in front of them.”
“Everyone in the play thinks they need something else,” Walker explained. “They think, ‘If I get this thing, my life will be complete,’ and none of them are right. It’s themselves they need to fix.”
He’s placing the Church as a major part of the set to imply that this is where the characters can go to find help and support; yet it is largely ignored until the end of the play.
Walker said, “The things you really need in your life are right in front of you; they’re not all these other things you’re searching for. … It’s not going to be in your search for material goods. What you’re searching for to make your life better or complete is not outside yourself. It’s inside yourself.”
Junior Maria Tizedes, playing Nell, loves how involved the audience can be in the story. “The audience knows more than we do, and they get to put the pieces together before we do,” she said.
For Tizedes, who hasn’t acted in a main stage production before, “The Comedy of Errors” has been a lesson in confidence and community. “Trying to get the accent down in the initial stage … was a challenge,” she said. “When the accent clicked, I started getting more excited.”
Though Nell is a smaller role, she’s often on stage, and Tizedes takes the role seriously. “I have few lines, but if I nail those lines it makes the whole show so much better.” Every element added during rehearsal time, such as props and costumes, she marks as a milestone that gives her confidence. She said, “There’s spots that instead of being nervous I’m excited.”
With a cast of 15, Tizedes came in not knowing many people well. But after being with her fellow actors for hours every day, “you get to see people on their better days and their not-so-great days, but we learn to work together because we want each other to succeed.”
She’s come to love the actors and the characters they portray. “The more alive the characters become, the more excited I am for their stories to be told,” she said. “I’m very excited because the more the show comes together, the more I love it.”
One challenging element to the rehearsal process has been Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter in the lines the actors are delivering.
Senior Sean Denton, playing one of the leads as Antipholus of Ephesus, has found the speech rhythms difficult to maintain while yelling, which he does often.
Denton, who has been in the show twice before coming to Franciscan University, was excited to be cast in a role other than Aegean, whom he played both other times. Besides the speech rhythms, he’s had to be careful to take care of his voice because of the strain on it.
As a senior, this is Denton’s last main stage production. “I’ve worked with a lot of these people before, and it’s also fun to interact with new people. At this stage in the game, we’re having a great time putting the show together,” he said.
He has also earned a great deal of playful teasing from the cast because of his inability to open his eyes wide, which Walker directed him to do in a scene. “I’m supposed to have my eyes wide, and my eyes can’t go that wide!” he laughed.
It’s with bittersweet feelings that Denton closes out his career at Franciscan. “We’re a family, we’re there for each other — that has to be my favorite part of the theater department,” he said.
As the cast and crew draw near to production dates, each member is getting excited to bring big laughs to an audience. “I’m just waiting for the fusion moment where everyone is on the same page with the same energy level,” said Walker.
This hysterical farce is coming to Anathan Theatre April 5, 6, 12 and 13 at 7 p.m. and April 7 and 14 at 2 p.m. When the curtains open, the actors will be ready to tell a story that audiences won’t forget anytime soon.