Nearly every situational comedy in the history of television — Three’s Company being the purest and most salient example — can trace its ancestry to Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, which in turn divined its easy, effervescent form from the classical Aristotelian unities of action, time and place.
Yes — I just linked the stupidest sitcom of the 1970s (rest in peace, John Ritter) to one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, now in production at University Theatre. It’s not all that outrageous. Just like the slapstick shenanigans of Chrissy, Janet and Jack, Comedy of Errors locates it repetitive hilarity among instances of mistaken identity and misheard tidbits of conversation, all spiced up by pratfalls, sexual innuendo and the generally bawdy behavior of largely clueless people.
Although UT’s Comedy of Errors (unlike Three’s Company) goes a tad flaccid with the raunchy wordplay, this production is nonetheless a gem, full of great comic acting and — appropriate to such ultimately inconsequential fare — basking in a general atmosphere of fun and frolic.
Nothing much at stake here, really, though you’d never guess it by the fevered antics of the characters. At the center of the action is Egeon (Evan McCarty), a merchant searching for his lost twin sons, Antipholus (Matt Ober) and Antipholus (Jonathan Edward). Both brothers are attended, in turn, by one of a pair of twins, Dromio (Alex Metz) and Dromio (Riley Mulvihill), purchased at birth by Egeon.
Them there are the basics, though the story is propelled and complicated by an ensemble including a jealous wife (Katelyn Lewis as Adriana), a saucy sister (Jessica Ray as Luciana), a sly courtesan (Nicolette Zaretsky) and more, all of whom are wrapped up in a goofy tangle of misidentified individuals and misread motives.
Director Joseph Gilg keeps the action swift. The cast is strong throughout, completely comfortable with the requisites of Shakespearean comedy, which demands that low and high concerns combine flawlessly in one big, sly wink at the implausible action on stage.
A special nod to designer Margot Glaser, whose gorgeous set employs Picasso pastels and forced perspectives to create a magical place out of time — a sort of mash-up of rich Renaissance textures and Willy Wonka fantasia that seems just right for the romantic clowning of the play.
And, unlike the pneumatic wisp of Three’s Company, UT’s Comedy of Errors will leave you tickled and satisfied, and unremorseful for the two hours you waste in its delightful company.
University Theatre’s Comedy of Errors runs through June 6 at UO’s Robinson Theatre; $14-$16.