Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Theater review: Laugh-a-minute 'Comedy'

By Gersh Kuntzman

The new production of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” at the BAM Harvey is laughable.

In this case, that’s good and bad news.

Propeller Theater’s bawdy, gag-filled version of the Bard’s early comedy is hampered throughout by something that the English troupe can’t control: a poor script that relies on silly wordplay and puns, a play that is not even in Shakespeare’s top 10.

The good news is that the game players barely bother to adhere to anything except Shakespeare’s actual words. Beyond that, pretty much anything goes.

Before the play even starts, the audience is greeted by a crew of actors wearing garish Mexican soccer uniforms and singing mariachis and 1980s pop songs with ridiculous Spanish accents and 1970s porn star moustaches.

The play begins in true Shakespearean fashion, with a dull monologue that explains the absurd plot to come: Two twin brothers, both named Antipholus, and their twin servants, both named Dromio, are separated at sea and end up in different countries. One Antipholus-Dromio team goes in search of the other, and, upon landing in Ephesus, is constantly being confused with the other.

Raucous hijinx are supposed to ensue. But in Shakespeare’s day, the comedy came from the tension when the out-of-town Antipholus ends up in bed with the hometown Antipholus’s wife only to fall in love with her sister; and the hometown Antipholus ends up in bed with a prostitute and in jail for “crimes” that his long-lost brother actually committed.

In reality, it’s boring. As audience members, you spend most of the time maddeningly waiting for the brothers’ identities to be resolved so the happy ending can play out. Fortunately, instead of relying on the script for the comedy, Propeller director Edward Hall turns the very staging of the show into an out-of-control farce.

It’s an all-male company, so plenty of easy laughs come from the oldest of gags: men in drag (especially Kelsey Brookfield as a busty hooker). But beyond that, mirth is conjured up in the craziest of ways: a nunchuck-toting noblewoman, a fight scene in which the Village People-style police officer ends up being comically sodomized with a nightstick, a hilarious church revival scene — none of which bears any resemblance to the stuff they did back in the Globe Theater.

Or perhaps it does. After all, Shakespeare was constantly balancing the need to enlighten the people in the good seats as well as entertain the coarser folk in the cheap seats, so in many respects Propeller is living up to the Bard’s high (and not so high) standards.

You’ll laugh heartily throughout — especially during Tony Bell’s riotous turn as an aging Evangelist — though don’t expect to heighten your appreciation for William Shakespeare.

“The Comedy of Errors” at BAM Harvey [651 Fulton St. between Rockwell and Ashland places in Fort Greene, (718) 636-4100], through March 27. Tickets $25-$95.


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