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by Lucy Komisar

Photo from 'Comedy of Errors'
Mira Kingsley, Louis Butelli and David Caron bring wild comedy to "Comedy of Errors." (Photo: Peter Meineck)
Contents: August 12, 2000:
(1)Aquila Theatre Company's "Comedy of Errors"
(2)"When They Speak of Rita" at Primary Stages
(3)"Much Ado About Nothing" at Hamptons Shakespeare Festival

"Comedy of Errors"
by William Shakespeare, adapted and directed by Robert Richmond
Produced by the Aquila Theatre Company
Hemmerdinger Hall, 100 East Washington Square Place
Opened June 29, 2000
Closed August 5, 2000
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar August 3, 2000
The Aquila Theatre Company's enormously inventive "Comedy of Errors" turns Shakespeare's farce into a very physical, slapstick, vaudeville-style romp that mixes stylized images with faultless comic timing. The fantasy of the plot is perfectly matched by the whimsical fantasies of the production.

Shakespeare's play tells the story of Antipholus of Syracuse, who as an infant was separated by shipwreck from his twin and mother. With his servant, Dromio, torn from his twin in the same disaster, he journeys to Ephesus to search for his lost family. Since both men look just like their twins, mistaken identities provide the stuff of much comedy.

A backdrop purple tent sets an ethereal mood which is enhanced by Anthony Cochrane's exotic music -- sounds that conjure up other dreamlike visions ranging from the Italian circus to silent movies.

At the start, puppet-like actors mime the shipwreck that sets the scene. Mime, including comic, slow-motion running in place, is used to good effect throughout.

Under Robert Richmond's skillful, subtle direction, the characters take on real personalities. Unlike in other portrayals I've seen, there's nothing unpleasant about Adriana (Lisa Carter), the upper-class wife who moans that her husband Antipholus hasn't come home. Carter makes her appealing, not an object of derision. In fact, every character in the play is treated with affection.

Luciana (Mira Kingsley), Adriana's sister, is played as a bookish but effervescent lady with passion bursting to get out. Her expression at the transport of first love is priceless.

David Caron deftly creates polar opposites of Antipholuses, the visiting one with a British accent and a cruder brother as a Cockney. The wildly energetic Louis Butelli is a bouncing Dromio in long, baggy, orange shorts and sneakers. His accents also change according to class, and his gestures and shimmies nearly steal the show.

Balthazar the merchant is a fetching Damon Runyonesque hood in black shirt, white tie and fedora. And Pinch, the doctor (Alex Webb,) is a comically wild, Southern-accented faith healer who speaks in tongues.

Lots of the action on the rubber-mat stage takes place on the floor as actors posture, pose and mug in delightful fashion and even provide their own sound effects. All this from a cast of only seven people, most of whom play multiple roles.

There's very little set -- just the purple tent and a stretched fabric for the ship. One is so transported by the magic in the actors' tones and movements that nothing else is needed.

"When They Speak of Rita"
by Daisy B. Foote, directed by Horton Foote
Produced by Primary Stages and Herrick Theatre Foundation
354 West 45 Street
Opened May 17, 2000
Closed August 5, 2000
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar August 4, 2000
The plot isn't very surprising -- 41-year-old rural New Hampshire housewife yearns for self-fulfillment and, in the face of husband's indifference, makes a mad, unrealistic dash for a new life in the arms of an equally needy, improbable lover. But with authentic dialogue by Daisy Foote, smooth, naturalistic direction by Horton Foote, and well-crafted performances, this is a very satisfying slice-of-life feminist play.

Rita (Hallie Foote) is wistful and desperate as the working-class mother who, after 20 years of marriage, fantasizes about starting a catering business, "Rita's Delectable Edibles." She gets no encouragement from husband or son. Uncommunicative husband Asa (Ken Marks) has his own problems when a California computer company retiree threatens to run against him for the job of overseeing the local roads.

You see Rita's misery repeating itself down the road when her son's girlfriend, Jeannie (Margot White), demurs about taking a full scholarship to a college away from home. "You think about me cleaning houses and scrubbing toilets," Rita admonishes her.

Her 19-year-old, tense, garage-mechanic son, Warren, representing the hard-hearted insensitive male, is given a crisp, edgy portrayal by Jamie Bennett. His sensitive, emotionally-needy friend, Jimmy, is created in charming fashion by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who has the youth's body language down perfectly.

The males are serious and realistic about their work, while the women live in dreams, unsupported by their men, who reserve their kudos for their wives' cooking.

Horton Foote's direction is excellently paced and rich with the small gestures that give texture to the play. Designers David Coleman and Owen Collins have created a not-too-modern kitchen with a window that helps smooth transitions by letting us see the characters approaching from the back entrance hall.

The story is just this side of soap opera, spiced with adultery and murder, but it clearly engrosses and touches the audience. When Jimmy declares, "Your family don't appreciate you," some viewers spontaneously applaud.

"Much Ado About Nothing"
by William Shakespeare, directed by Craig Goerge
Produced by Hamptons Shakespeare Festival
Theodore Roosevelt County Park, Route 27, Montauk
Opened August 5, 2000
Closes August 20, 2000, then at Agawam Park, Southampton, Aug. 25-Sept. 3, 2000
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar August 5, 2000
A line of khaki-clad soldiers follows a flag bearer down a hill to a stage set off by victory posters ("I'm Making Bombs and Buying Bonds") and the great, jazzy, jitterbug sound of the 1940s. Director Craig George has placed Shakespeare's homecoming soldiers in 1945 at the governor's mansion in Richmond, Virginia, and it works. The pristine outdoor setting is supplied by Theodore Roosevelt County Park in Montauk, the venue for the five-year-old Hamptons Shakespeare Festival.

The post-World War II staging gives George, composer David Brandenburg and choreographer Thomas Mills a well-exploited chance to feature the music and dance of swing, with the help of the very excellent singer, Renee Howard. And Alice M. Vienneau, who has played Fantine on Broadway in "Les Miserables," is in top form as an acerbic, charming Beatrice. There are also some wonderfully comic performances given by Dan Renkin and Arnell Powell as a Mutt & Jeff Dogberry and Virgil, the not-very-bright "watch" -- here updated to "security guards."

The time line snakes seamlessly through the plot. The men in the garden play golf as they talk about Beatrice's love for Benedick. That fellow, dressed as a caddy, hides behind a pulled-down cap and a golf bag. (The clubs fall out as he leans over to listen.)

However, most of the characters lack definition and personality. Benedick, for example, is all silliness and no center. John, the colonel's evil brother, is not evil enough. Shakespeare's magic doesn't come through. Even so, this imaginative "Much Ado..." provides a diverting Hamptons summer evening out. Just don't sit, as I did, in a back row with a chill wind whipping at your neck.[Komisar]

Theater critic Lucy Komisar gives pre-show briefings and post-show discussions for theater parties to enrich playgoers' experiences. She'll also help find an appropriate show and make or advise on arrangements. Interested parties may telephone (212) 929-1610 for information.

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