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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Be prepared to laugh yourself silly at 'The Comedy of Errors'

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Spoiler alert.

I can't keep it a secret any more, so if you really don't want to know what some of the funniest parts of the Tennessee Shakespeare Festival's "The Comedy of Errors" are, stop reading now.

Of course, even if I do tell you about the character of "Nell," the twin-switching scenes and the wonderful steel magnolia purring cat fight between the abbess and the wife, it wouldn't matter-- there are more funny moments than I can squeeze into my column, and all are subject to change.

That's the joy of live theater -- especially live theater that involves Jerry Winsett, who will truly do anything for a laugh. We went last Friday night when Jerry pulled one particular stunt that left us all gasping for breath from laughing so hard (and poor Sam Dalton gasping for breath for an entirely different reason.)

The wickedly funny comedian doesn't have quite as much stage time as he has in previous shows, when he played "Bottom" in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and "Launce" in "Two Gentlemen of Verona," but he makes every moment shine, shimmer and quiver with laughter.

He's not the only one, either. Patrick Waller and Andy Kaneis work doubletime -- literally -- to keep the laughs coming. I think one of the single funniest moments in a play filled with funny moments is when Kaneis (in his best role yet), playing the servant Dromio, stands stock still and deadpan, complaining in droll tones about how often his master beats him. In the meantime, Waller, playing Antipholus, is "beating" him thoroughly and wildly with a frayed rope.

Kaneis never even flinches.

The scene, though, offers more than a quick sight gag. It also offers testimony to the skills of director Lane Davies.

Face it -- "Errors" is not exactly a politically correct play. There are slaves, rumors of infidelity, and beatings, thrashings and thumpings.

Lots of them.

How can you make that amusing to the enlightened viewer of the 21st century?

You remember that most of the enlightened viewers of the 21st century grew up on the Three Stooges, that's how -- and that's exactly what Davies does. He emphasizes the camp and slapstick.

"The Comedy of Errors" is not a deep and lyrical play such as "The Tempest" or "Lear." It was the Globe's version of The Three Stooges, or perhaps, The Marx Brothers, since there is plenty of sly wit and innuendo thrown in with the slapstick. Under Davies' direction, the cast grabs that concept and runs with it. And slaps with it, and roars and fights and does double-takes with it. Martha Wilkerson as the Abbess loads her speeches with the wonderful left-handed compliment sort of voice that Southern women reserve for "frenemies." Bobby Wyckoff's conjure man "Pinch" is just as funny as last year's role of "Speed," and the dance routine for his big number was one of the best I've seen on any stage.

Matt Carlton needs a special heads up -- besides playing the thankless role of the fuddy-duddy authority figure (and actually giving him some life!), he also pulled together a score of original and traditional mountain music that turns the comedy into a folk musical and just makes it that much better.

(You have to wonder about Shakespeare's own relationship with authority figures since he makes them deadly dull in the comedies and just deadly in the tragedies.)

There are so many subtle, brilliant touches and Southern flavors in this production that it makes me wonder why Davies isn't directing on Broadway -- but I'm just as glad he's not. I'd much rather have him here instead.

It's not too late to catch this year's production. The last three shows are Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Webb School in Bell Buckle. For tickets and information, visit www.tennesseeshakespearefestival.com.

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Mary Reeves
Mother Mayhem