Perhaps most striking about Shakepeare’s Globe is how physically little it takes to get it right. This point was driven home after seeing the elaborate reconstruction of the Globe Theater at The Park Avenue Armory this summer under the auspices of a residency from The Royal Shakespeare Company. A huge edifice, big casts, and elaborate sets rarely amounted to good theater there. But the Globe players, who are often traveling light, manage to impress with their focus on the best parts of Shakespeare – the language and desire to connect with the audience. The Comedy of Errors was directed by Rebecca Gatward and with its simplicity creates the deception that the show might be some summertime backyard lark. The set consists of little more than a large wooden pallet set upon the stage with a canvas-covered shack just behind it. Some chairs and a handful of props complete the physical stuff of the performance outside of the eight members of the ensemble and their costumes. It’s not Elizabethan dress per se, but evokes a 20th-century Turkish look with fezzes and sandals.
And yet the production feels large with its outsized comic performances. A single actor is cast for each pair of identically-named and unwittingly separated twin brothers. Antipholus is played here by the debonaire Bill Buckhurst and the servants Dromio are embodied by Fergal McElherron. This is not an unusual strategy given that there are only two scenes (one being the finale) that involve both twins in the same scene at the same time. Of course, having a single actor dash back in forth in those moments adds to the hilarity, and true to form, the Act III confrontation where one pair of Antipholus and Dromio are barred from entering their own home by the other pair, is particularly well done as the actors dash back and forth to either side of a free-standing door deftly donning and removing the few props—like a pair of glasses—used to communicate their different identities to the audience. But Gatward ups the ante in this production by having almost all of the rest of the cast take on multiple roles as well. Emma Pallant plays both the Abbess and the Courtesan in a particularly artful twist further muddling the social relationships Shakespeare is parodying. The Globe company and Gatward also strike just the right note with the numerous slapstick and low-brow elements of the play. The cast provides their own sound effects with slide whistles and drums for the pratfalls. But the whole thing is done with such a keen eye for the text and language that it never feels cynical. There is no effort to update or transform references using modern cultural ones. But there is an expansive sense of the stage and surroundings with the cast often entering, exiting, and delivering dialog from various points in the Broad Stage’s intimate space.
The show, which runs through the 27th, is perfect for older kids and just about everyone. It’s also another big success for Shakespeare’s Globe and The Broad Stage here in Los Angeles, which leaves one wanting more. So how about a two month residency sometime with the company here in Los Angeles at The Broad with five or six plays running in repertory. We could show New York how it’s done (again) and we wouldn’t even need to build a replica of the Globe Theater inside.