No “errors” noted in William Shakespeare’s early comic farce The Comedy of Errors, presented 1920’s film-style by Junior Players in collaboration with Shakespeare Dallas at the Samuell-Grande Amphitheatre through Sunday July 27. As part of its yearly arts outreach to nearly 6000 Dallas area youth, Junior Players mounts a full-scale, fully costumed, professional caliber production. This year’s offering reflects well the high goals of this well-respected organization, soon approaching its 60th year.
For the ninth year running, UNT and North Lake College adjunct professor Valerie Hauss-Smith directs The Comedy of Errors and says she found this production particularly rewarding. “I faced my youth actors with a major challenge: remain true to the text, the essential meaning of Shakespeare’s play; but integrate1920’s-style zany, physical comedy and slapstick as embodied by Charlie Chaplin into the show’s performance. They embraced the challenge and surpassed my expectations.”
The twenty-four teen actors perform Comedy within the concept of filming a 1920’s style movie, as Charlie Chaplin might have. A director wields a megaphone in every scene, yelling “action” and “cut”, followed by a cameraman lugging equipment. They frame the production within a live filming context and set all scene transitions, sometimes on the Samuell Grand stage, sometimes from locations in the audience. The visual created adds meta-theatrical whimsy and gives smartly cadenced structure to a chaotic play. Costumed elegantly in 1920’s period black and white/ ecru (Bruce Coleman), the cast worked at length with Movement Director Lloyd Caldwell to manifest the physical comedy popularized by comic legend Charlie Chaplin. Every actor, from leads costumed to look like him to bit parts, integrates into the concept and appears to be “acting” for the camera in each scene.
The cast includes high school students or recent graduates and is both color and gender-blind. As Aegeon, a merchant in search of his lost family, Ursuline Academy junior Eliza Palter adds a clearly defined somber tone. Two pairs of brothers separated by shipwreck as children, one pair gentlemen, the other servants, meet unexpectedly in the port of Ephesus, where mistaken identities create issues that flow like spring floods. The play’s success turns on the acting of the two pairs, who often become indistinguishable in the story but must always remain clearly defined to the bemused audience. Lamar High School graduate Austin Short and Booker T. Washington senior Dante Flores grasp their befuddled roles as highborn/ lowborn visitors from Syracuse with enthusiasm and infuse the physical comedy their presence inspires with hilarious abandon. Flores demonstrates a comic flair reminiscent of Mexico’s film comic genius Cantinflas. As the “straighter” pairing of gentleman plus servant, and well-known residents of Ephesus, Tom Mizell (Plano Senior High graduate) and Nicholas Mayfield (Booker T. Washington graduate) demonstrate ever-expanding outrage as the play’s mishaps pull them further into unanticipated, disreputable chaos. Misunderstandings get set right, overseen by the properly grave Duke of Ephesus played by Kristin Raveneau (Booker T. Washington graduate) and the commanding Abbess of Ephesus, played by Leah Bell (Richardson High School graduate). The performance delivers a crisp, professional, funny evening of live theatre and attests to the worthy educational outreach undertaken by Junior Players and Shakespeare Dallas in collaboration.
Photos by DiAnn L’Roy
A version of this review appears in The Dallas Morning News: http://www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/headlines/20140723-junior-players-find-chaplin-in-the-bard.ece