'Comedy of Errors' promises to be double the fun
Physical characteristics factor in at least to some extent when directors cast actors in a play.
But it’s not every show that requires actors to play two sets of identical twins in its cast.
Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” does just that. The farce revolves around the twins, both sets of which were separated at birth, in a plot driven by chaos related to mistaken identity.
Maryland Entertainment Group will present “Comedy of Errors” at its 6th Annual Shakespeare in the Park Festival Thursday, June 6, Saturday, June 8, and Sunday June 9 at University Plaza in Hagerstown, and Saturday, June 15 at Renfrew Institute in Waynesboro, Pa. University Plaza performances are sponsored by the City of Hagerstown Community & Economic Development.
Anne Hunt and Megan Siebeneichen portray one set of twins, while Jacob Reese and Jacob Waeyaert act as the other.
Hunt, who stars as Antiphola of Syracuse, said her role, as well as Siebeneichen’s, was originally written as a male character. While the character was penned by Shakespeare as Antipholus of Syracuse, MEG’s production “gender bends some male roles into female roles,” Hunt said.
“It was the nature of wanting to do something a little bit different, and of having some strong female actors that (director Sam Little) can use in those roles,” she said. “And finding people who look enough alike to cast as twins.”
“Comedy of Errors” is not specific to a particular time period, and MEG’s presentation of the play takes on “a very modern feel.”
“The clothing is modern. The character I play is a boss, an executive, a master. It’s kind of neat to be playing a female executive in the show,” she said.
Female empowerment was not a theme in Shakespeare’s script, but in the MEG production, “I think for sure that has come up in rehearsal,” Hunt said.
“We do touch on that. My character and my twin are successful executives in this world that we’ve created. We have male assistants, which to be honest, is not a common thing. You most commonly see a man in a suit with a female assistant,” she said. “It’s fun to showcase women who are strong, smart, funny, and who can hold our own.”
While the gender of some of the characters has been changed for the production, the language remains untouched.
“We will never touch that Shakespearean language. It’s so beautiful, and when it’s done properly, it is so easy to understand,” Hunt said. “‘Comedy of Errors’ has a modern feel to it even with the original language. Watching it, it is very understandable, very funny, very big and comical. For sure, we will keep that heightened language that we know and love from Shakespeare.”
Jacob Reese portrays Dromio of Ephesus. Though he had read the script before, he’d never seen or acted in the play.
“It is funny. It could almost be a modern British comedy, like a Monty Python skit or ‘Noises Off.’ People are entering and exiting and there are cases of confused identity. It’s just silly,” he said.
Gender swapping some of the characters adds “a new bend of humor that I really like,” Reese said.
“First read-throughs can be a little dry with people stumbling over their lines, getting their minds around the language,” he said. “But from the very first read-through for this show, we were sitting around the table just cackling. These lines are so funny.”
Reese noted the talent and skill of the MEG cast.
“This is the best group of people I’ve had a chance to work with in a long time,” he said. “I’ve got to give it to the cast of this show.”
The cast of about 15 actors is smaller than some of MEG’s Shakespeare in the Park Festival casts have been in the past. It features festival veterans and newcomers to the group.
“It’s neat to get an outside perspective of what they have learned about ‘The Bard’ and what they bring to this production,” Hunt said.
Similarly, she said, the festival will appeal to Shakespeare fans, as well as to those who are new to his plays.
“It’s the perfect show to see. It’s light-hearted. It will put a smile on your face. It’s a fast-paced, quintessential Shakespeare, summer show,” Hunt said.
Though start times vary by date and location, all festival shows begin in the evening, and by final bow, it will be dark outside.
“Bring a lawn chair, bring a picnic, bring a friend and a blanket. It’s a great time of Shakespeare under the stars. There is usually a nice summer breeze flowing through. I think it’s so magical,” Hunt said. “It’s one of my most favorite things in the world to be a part of.”
Top photo: From left, Megan Siebeneichen, Jacob Reese, Jacob Waeyaert and Anne Hunt star in “Comedy of Errors” at Maryland Entertainment Group’s 6th Annual Shakespeare in the Park Festival. (Photo by Perk Hull Design)