Arts and Entertainment

Not So Comedic

The Spectator reviews the Stuyvesant Theater Community’s final show of the school year.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Khush Wadhwa

The Stuyvesant Theater Community put on its third and final show of the year—a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors—by using more in-touch references, such as swapping Syracuse, Italy, for Syracuse University. This rendition follows the tale of two sets of identically named identical twins whose antics we follow in the city of Ephesus.

The musical begins in the Duke of Ephesus’s (Adeline Sauberli) office, lushly decorated in a rainbow of lights. The ban of Syracusians, illustrated on a whiteboard, was a harsh sign for Egeon (Max Hesse). The Duke of Ephesus stands to reprimand Egeon for illegally entering Ephesus and levies the death penalty for the crime. Spurred by the threat, Egeon launches into a heartfelt, musical retelling of his life up until that point. His twin sons, both named Antipholus; their twin “interns,” both named Dromio; and his wife were separated in a shipwreck. Since then, Egeon seeks to find the Antipholus and Dromio that he lost years ago. Evidently moved by his sob story, the Duke grants Egeon one more day to pay his fines and escape death. Though this point is seemingly set up to be a large plot point, Egeon and his impending doom neither make an appearance until the last scene nor make a noticeable impact on the events that ensue.

Comedy of Errors then whisks us away to a bustling scene that may hit closer to home: an impressive scaffolding, a colorful halal cart, and an elegant lamppost flickering with an orange glow, all creating the wonderfully nostalgic New York City vibe that defines Ephesus. We are introduced to Antipholus of Syracuse (Dylan Ross) and Dromio of Syracuse (Frayn Colyn Navales), who are visiting the city to search for their long lost siblings. Antipholus of Syracuse’s heart wrenchingly mystical rendition of “A Drop of Water” eloquently depicts the pain Antipholus of Syracuse has felt in losing his twin and sets the stage for an epic adventure. In direct contrast, though, is Dromio’s slapstick and energetic humor, which balances the seriousness of Antipholus of Syracuse. Dromio of Ephesus (Ashvica Sinha), mistaken for Dromio of Syracuse, returns to greet Antipholus of Syracuse without any knowledge of the tasks assigned to him. Not only does this provide a humorous misunderstanding, it establishes that both sets of twins are in the same city and are now bound to meet once again.

We are then introduced to the other essential characters of Comedy of Errors: Adriana (Audrey Hilger), the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, and her alcoholic sister Luciana (Lily Wagman) are suspicious of Antipholus of Ephesus’s absence. When they travel to bring back Antipholus of Syracuse, who they assume is Antipholus of Ephesus, the mixup escalates. Add in a gold chain delivered to the wrong twin, and the conflict takes a turn for the absolute worst. Spunky, fast paced songs like “Slave to a Ring” and “Miss Duke” add a snappy but surprisingly deep insight into the chracters’ motivations: why do they stay in unfaithful marriages? Why do they cheat and refuse to listen to one another? And again, the set designed for the Ephesus home is mind-blowingly intricate: with a real vintage TV, homely shelves, tables, and a staircase leading up to a balcony, the audience becomes absorbed in the personal lives and aesthetics of the characters.

The ending, however, seems like a rushed climax in an otherwise slow-paced tale. The Ephesus women hire Pinch (Beatriz Ongan Sancho), a scientist-turned-exorcist, to resolve the unexplained mixups, leading to a chaotically entertaining, supernaturally maniacal performance of “Way Down in the Hole.” The play ends at the church priory, where the Duke and a nun abruptly explain all of the show’s mishaps and happily host a comedic family reunion.

Throughout the play, the audience’s experience was marred by poor audio from the actors. Combined with Shakespeare’s Early Modern English, it was impossible at times to grasp the plot. Actors struggled with enunciating words, and with the abundant technical difficulties. This mistake gravely impacted the understandability of the plot. In a show that is fragile in its clarity, it’s essential for the actors to evince what is happening. The band constantly played over actors’ songs, leaving the audience clueless as to what was being said.

Additionally, the extras in the show performed well—somewhat to the show’s own demise. Their dramatically funny gestures in the background were seemingly more interesting than the main actors’ parts. At some points, when the audio was muddled and an empty tray of halal food flew across the stage, viewers had no choice but to turn and laugh at the extras, missing crucial parts of the play.

Throughout the play, the lighting was excellently orchestrated, especially in “Way Down in the Hole,” where Pinch takes control of the dark red, strobe-lit scene. The crew up above spotlighted the actors and illuminated the well-designed set. However, this starkly contrasted the poor audio, which significantly lowered audience engagement and comprehension.

The script left several loose ends that seemed unrelated to the plight of the show. From the beginning to the end, the purpose of the deposit at the inn is unjustified, but happens to be a meeting of chance between the two sets of twins. For those who have never read or seen The Comedy of Errors, the appearance of Pinch is extremely random and strange. However, the scriptwriters were able to deliver some decent jokes (when you could hear them). For example, Antipholus of Syracuse’s comparison between an intern and slave earned some well-deserved laughs from the crowd. The parody of “It Wasn’t Me” proved to be an earworm for the many audience members, helped by excellent song and energy from Antipholus and Dromio.

Though small, the playbill had errors and confusing parts that impacted the viewer’s experience. The playbill (possibly) mistakenly put Dylan Ross as Antipholus of Ephesus instead of Antipholus of Syracuse in both the cast list and “Who’s Who” page, while also (possibly) intentionally swapping the images of the two Antipholuses. While it could have been intended to be funny, it was unnecessary for an already confusing show.

Overall, the play was confusing and riddled with errors like the name suggests. While there was much potential for a true comedy, the scriptwriters were unable to make it understandable for a modern-day audience. The naming mistakes and other errors designed to add to the comedic aspect of the show only made it more difficult to understand. The lack of laughter throughout the show emphasized one thing: the show left the comedy at home.