Saturday, June 13, 2015

It's all about the concept

Steamy Comedy at Bard
by Christopher Key

One of the best things about Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach is that they have the resources to take an ingenious concept to its ultimate fruition, no matter how outrageous.  Veteran Bard director Scott Bellis has taken The Comedy of Errors and turned it into a wild and wooly celebration of all things Steampunk.

For those of you whose literary tastes are relatively normal, Steampunk is an unholy marriage of Cyberpunk and Alternative History, themselves both subgenres of Science Fiction.  Further, deponent sayeth not.

The real stars of this production are the set, the costumes and the music.  The ingenious set, designed by Pam Johnson, is a delightful concoction of Rube Goldberg gadgetry that evokes memories of the Charlie Chaplin classic, Modern Times.  Costuming is a vital part of the Steampunk universe and Bard founding member Mara Gottler blends Victorian themes with influences from both Star Trek and Star Wars.  If that’s not enough to stir up your inner geek, Sound Designer Malcolm Dow has created a mechanical mélange that he calls “…a lost dream of a non-digital futuristic world.”

Bard help the poor actors who have to compete with this technological tour-de-force.  He must be a merciful literary deity since he provides a cast that can meet and exceed such challenges.  Of course, he wrote so many plays based on identity crises that any actor who aspires to Shakespearean stardom must be able to handle the confusion with aplomb.

Comedy’s double vision includes twin sons who have twin servants, all of whom become separated in the inevitable shipwreck.  Both sets of twins are supposedly male, but it’s the women who run away with this farce.  Luisa Jojic and Dawn Petten, both Bard veterans, play the Dromios (of Syracuse and Ephesus, respectively) with a manic energy that will leave you gasping.  They look enough alike in their program headshots to be sisters and not every director gets that lucky.

Luisa Jojic, Jeff Gladstone and Dawn Petten star in the Bard on the Beach production of The Comedy of Errors.  Photo credit - David Blue

Bellis also gets a remarkable physical match with the Antipholi, played by Ben Elliott and Jay Hindle.  Both actors have the physicality to handle the constant slapstick and both have the chops to compete with the Dromios.  I said compete, not win.

Antipholus of Ephesus is married to Adriana and Sereana Malani delivers a brilliantly brassy interpretation.  Lindsey Angell, in her second season at Bard, comes frighteningly close to stealing the show as Adriana’s bookish sister Luciana.

Lindsey Angell works her wiles on Ben Elliott.  Photo credit - David Blue

Lili Beaudoin, another Bard sophomore, is sexily satanic as the Courtesan and Anna Galvin makes an impressive Bard debut tripling as Nurse Poppy, the vertically superior Abbess of Ephesus and First Engineer.

Lili Beaudoin gives a hell of a performance.  Photo credit - David Blue

Nell, Adriana’s cook, is given a monstrously magnificent ride by the redoubtable Andrew McNee and Jeff Gladstone is deliciously demented as the cyborg mad scientist Doctor Pinch.  He doubles as the Duke of Ephesus.

Live theatre is at its best when something goes awry and when the Duke has a mustache malfunction, Gladstone turned it into the biggest laugh of the show.  Let’s hope they keep this inspired bit of improv throughout the run.

Bellis, like the Bard, is a true believer in appropriating good shtick when the opportunity arises.  In this case, he requisitions some carnivorous plants reminiscent of Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors.

The Comedy of Errors runs in repertory with King Lear on the Bard mainstage through September 26.  Do I really need to tell you that Bard sells out upwards of 95 percent of its performances?  Make your reservations now by calling toll-free 1-877-739-0559 or by going to the Bardwebsite.

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