The Comedy of Errors, Propeller, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

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David Newman and Robert Hands in The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors
By William Shakespeare

Propeller
Directed by Edward Hall

BAM Harvey Theater

With Richard Clothier, John Dougall, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, Sam Swainsbury, Richard Frame, Jon Trenchard, Robert Hands, David Newman, Wayne Cater, Thomas Padden, Dominic Tighe, Kelsey Brookfield, Tony Bell, Chris Myles

To revisit The Comedy of Errors is to marvel at Shakespeare’s adroitness as a sketch comedy writer. Could any other playwright have squeezed so many joke variations out of so flimsy a premise? The play, his earliest and perhaps thinnest comedy, is one merely one thing happening repeatedly. A very confused man, despite his initial protestations, is systematically mistaken for his long-lost twin, an error he delightfully accepts upon realizing that he can exploit it to romantic or financial advantage. A soberer production might have explored the bard’s satirical insights into post-feudal marital and mercantile relationships. But the all-male ensemble Propeller sets their wild slapstick production in a shabby Mexican resort town, where wacky hijinks ensue amidst straw hats, a mariachi band, graffitied storefront grating, Christmas lights hanging from a candy-striped pole, and everything gaudy and tacky strewn over every available surface. The carefree Antipholuses (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Sam Swainsbury), hair coiffed, swagger around in purple and lavender floral print and a neon eighties-style fanny pack. Their servants, the shaggy-haired Dromios (Richard Frame and Jon Trenchard) scamper in beige safari-looking vests and novelty smiley-face t-shirts. This is a cartoon world with an edge, where carefree tequila-soaked sleazebags kick their servants in the pants and holler at their berserk women.

There are a few differences between the two Antipholuses – one is a whiny bachelor given to self-indulgent grandiloquent ruminations, and the other is a goofy hedonist married to the fiery Adriana (Robert Hands), an exasperated vamp in a leopard print dress and silvery tights who looks and acts like the real housewife of Tijuana. But both Antipholuses are decked out in the same threads, so who cares? Once you take for granted that each is always mistaken for the other, you can sit back and enjoy the clowning, and the sound effects provided by the handy mariachi musicians. The Dromios, always smarting after a beating, have different skills, too – one is a scrawny, high-voiced master of pratfalls and the other is a stockier and more aggrieved expert mime. Fortunately they’re both consummate banterers that make the most hackneyed and outdated gags worth a laugh.

There’s no shortage of outlandish characters here, and many deserve mention. David Newman is a jittery schoolmarm who knows jujitsu. Kelsey Brookfield is a loony prostitute in a leather getup complete with black pumps, bunny ears and a bushy white tail. He is always underscored by a burlesque saxophone. Thomas Padden is a spindly jeweler with a golden jacket and a bald pate, who made a gold necklace for one of the Antipholuses and can’t shake the other one down for payment. Tony Bell is a sketchy over-the-hill evangelical preacher (original: conjurer) who stops the show with a gospel number and eventually runs across the stage buck naked with a sparkler sticking out of his rear. Perhaps most hilarious of all is Dominic Tighe as a giddy police officer in aviator sunglasses and leather pants who, at the start of the second act, spontaneously proposes to an audience member and serenades her with “The Girl from Ipanema.”

This blithe production is the lightweight Shakespeare equivalent of cotton candy washed down with a Corona. The poetry takes a backseat to the buffoonery, but it’s hard to hold a grudge when the show is such a hoot.

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