SALT LAKE CITY — I was dodging raindrops as my companion and I ran around trying to find the Salt Lake City library amphitheater for the Grassroots Shakespeare Company ‘s(GSC) production of The Comedy of Errors. I wasn’t too concerned, figuring that it was just a minor inconvenience until we found the correct entrance to the library that was open to the audience, admitting them inside for the performance.
It was then that we rounded the corner of the library and realized that the amphitheater was an outside performance space. A few patrons were huddled under umbrellas as the GSC gathered together deciding whether or not the weather would cooperate enough for them to perform. We joined the group just as a poll was being taken. And then, it was decided.
The show must go on.
Graciously pulling out some plastic chairs so that the stalwart audience members were not forced to sit upon wet pavement, the GSC jumped on their makeshift stage and started an evening that I will not soon forget.
The smartest move made by the GSC was the introduction to the evening’s entertainment. Helpful especially for those (like myself) who had never been to a GSC production, the company came out with a lively explanation of who they were and what to expect. Mostly that they are a company dedicated to exploring “traditional” Shakespearean practices, such as: not having a director, having a very short rehearsal period, making their own stage, and pulling their costumes from their closets. They also explained that they required an audience that was willing to be “robustly Elizabethan”—meaning the audience was invited to be vocal (booing, cheering, etc.) and to respond to the actors throughout the show.
Considering that, by this point, the rain was falling in a pretty heavy stream, I don’t think they needed to worry about the audience being supportive. Those who had stayed were ready to have a raucously good time.
The tone of the evening was quickly established in the opening scene, a expositional tour de force where the both the basis of the story and the style of show were introduced. Tyler Harris shined as he told the story of how he and has his wife had been blessed with twin boys, and had subsequently bought another set of twin boys from a peasant woman to serve as their sons’ servants. The fateful day came when they were shipwrecked and the family was separated—with each parent holding onto one brother from each set of twins (so one master and one servant). Now, thirty some odd years later, both sets unknowingly end up in the same town, a situation ripe for the comedy that can only come through continual mistaken identity.
The style of this production of The Comedy of Errors? Campy, tongue in cheek, and physical, over the top comedy. No joke was too low (though there were a few too many lewd and bathroom jokes for this reviewer’s personal tastes), no antic was too extreme, and it was open season on “rain” and “wet” ad-libs. The GSC was presenting itself as a shoestring budget company that was determined to entertain. And entertain they did.
The men in the company outshone the women in their creation of extreme and engaging characters. Nick Grossiant and Kyle Oram complimented each other in their creations of the twin servants Dromio: Grossaint as the more adorable version and Oram as the wily version. Both skillfully managed the balance between stupidity and street smarts that enable Shakespeare’s lower class characters to thrive. Grossiant, in particular, showed his prowess as he explains what happens in the first mistaken identity encounter. As he switches seamlessly back and forth between himself and his assumed master (“Quoth I! Quoth he!”), his comedic timing and physical ability are highlighted. The comedy was also highlighted by the absurd fact that by this point the rain had turned into a torrential downpour.
Jordan Kramer and Tyler Groesbeck were equally entertaining in their dual creation of the masters’ Antipholus. Both were fully committed to the outlandish caricatures that they had invented and milked all the potential comedy from their choices. Unfortunately, their commitment to creating such distinct characters was ultimately distracting. With a story line that depends on each twin being mistaken for the other, and in the case of the masters, being mistaken by a wife, the complete uniqueness of each character made it hard to believe that one could ever be mistaken for the other. By anyone. This is a point where having a director might have been helpful.
The GSC made great use of specific (and often outlandish) costume pieces in order to help the audience understand the story. Not only were styles and colors chosen successful in helping to identify the “twins” (particularly useful considering the actors didn’t really resemble each other), but since the majority of the actors played multiple characters, the use of both iconic, distinct clothing and masks helped the audience keep everyone straight. Though be forewarned, the combination of capes and rain has the potential of making a hilariously wet experience (thank you, William Kalmar).
The simple set, made of planks on barrels, some curtains and a few ladders, was also effectively used. Favorite moments included the introduction of the baby twins (genius) and the creative uses of the dual trap doors.
Though there were a few uneven moments (including one very awkward curtain call dance party), for the most part the GSC accomplished what they set out to do. They created a light-hearted evening full of laughter and introduced an audience to one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known (perhaps for good reason) plays. With their good-natured attitude toward the obstacles in their way, their ability to engage and involve the audience and their knack to milk many comedic moments, GSC’s The Comedy of Errors is an entertaining evening that will leave you smiling.
I would just recommend checking the weather report first.