Inspired by the line “where’s the money?”, John Stuart has set his Comedy of Errors in 1920s New York.
It’s classic Shakespeare paired with Tommy guns and pin-striped zoot suits, with a few in the cast channelling Brooklyn gangster accents à la Al Capone.
“The people in it are all merchants, with quotation marks around it,” says Stuart, of the Emerald Pig Theatrical Society production.
“They are all ‘business men.’ You know it’s not legal money. The challenge of a director is to make Shakespeare connect with today’s audience. You do that by not changing his language, because his language is beautiful, but changing the theme.”
One of Shakespeare’s earliest play, The Comedy of Errors tells the story of two sets of identical twins who were accidentally separated at birth.
The play starts with Egeon, a Syracusan trader, caught in the city of Epheus, a place Syracusans are banned from due to a civil war. Egeon is sentenced to death unless he can pay a steep fine. When he tells his captors that he is in town to search for one of his twin sons, who was lost at sea as an infant, his captors grant mercy and give him one day to pay the fine.
While Egeon sits in jail, the twins – Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse – and their slaves – Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse – all meet in Ephesus, which sets the stage for a series of farcical mix-ups.
“You have two sets of twins who are just mistaken for each other in this town. It’s such a simple premise and so understandable,” says Stuart.
But casting two pairs of actors who resembled each other posed a challenge. Stuart was willing to switch the male characters to female, but lucked out during auditions when he found actors who matched in build and height.
Richard Weins, who plays Antipholus of Syracuse, has created a back story for his character that suggests he’s a bootlegger, smuggling booze during prohibition.
“It’s why he travels so much,” says Weins, adding that he was surprised to realize how many modern movies are based on the Shakespeare story. (Parent Trap is perhaps the most obvious, as well as Two Much, which stars Antonio Banderas)
The 29-year-old Coquitlam resident has a little trouble believing he looks like 17-year-old Myles McCarthy, who plays his identical counterpart Antipholus of Ephesus.
“We’re dressing alike. I’m not sure I see a resemblance. But I guess there are enough similarities there that we’re hoping the audience will just buy it. If I look like a 17-year-old, I’m OK with that.”
Catch Comedy of Errors for free from Thursday, July 14 to Sunday, July 17 at Pitt Meadows Spirit Square, near city hall, off Harris Road. It plays on the bandstand in Memorial Peace Park in Maple Ridge from Thursday, July 21 to Sunday, July 24. Pre-show entertainment begins at 7 p.m. The show starts at 8 p.m. There are matinees on July 17 and July 24. Pre-show entertainment begins at noon and the shows at 1 p.m.
Comedy of Errors
• “For slander lives upon succession,
For ever housed where it gets possession” (Act III, Scene I);
• “Time is a very bankrupt, and owes more than he’s worth to season.
Nay, he’s a thief, too: have you not heard men say,
That time comes stealing on by night and day?” (Act IV, Scene II);
• Shakespeare’s main source of inspiration for Comedy of Errors was likely the Latin play Menaechmi by Plautus.