PROVO — With a backdrop of beautiful green trees, adorned by a purple and orange sunset sky I sat on my blanket at the BYU duck pond and patiently waited for Grassroots Shakespeare Company to blow my mind again. Last year at midnight on Halloween I watched as many of the same actors took to the stage in Titus Andronicus. I didn’t know what to expect then, and the show wouldn’t let me look at Shakespeare the same again. So, with Comedy of Errors, Grassroots Shakespeare Company had a high standard to uphold which they met—and rocketed past.
Before the play even began the audience was met by a live band, the indie/folk group Balthazar and the Merry Shakespeare band. The band pulled some actors on stage to join the fun and even an audience member, who provided us with Walken’s infinitely famous “MORE COWBELL!” I would have been perfectly content sitting and listening to them all night had it been their concert. The night was already success and the show hadn’t even started! The band would also act as the company’s “live orchestra” providing funny themes of music for characters and sound effects along the way.
When the show began we were greeted by the entire ensemble who quickly explained what “original practices” was and the exploration of this particular genre of Shakespearean performance. Per the norm at for Grassroots, the audience was rowdy, the actors were zany, and the evening was more than just a show; it was going to be a night to entice the senses.
In Shakespeare‘s Comedy of Errors two sets of twins get separated at birth, one set comes from the elderly man Egeon, the other from an unfortunate poor woman. Egeon purchases the poor unfortunate woman’s set of twins to act as slaves to his sons. As they’re traveling, they hit a rock, the boat splits in two, one half taking one son and his slave, the other half taking the other son and slave. One set winds up in the town that the other set and been living in. With each person knowing of the other twin’s existence, everyone mistakes everyone for being everyone, and hilarity ensues.
The night was a success, not due to flawless preparation and exactness of direction (because there was no director), but rather the opposite. The funniest parts of this comedy were not the pre-rehearsed and pre-digested jokes and witticisms, but rather all their shortcomings (which were not nearly as abundant as their successes) and how expertly they were dealt with. From props breaking, to stumbling over lines, to falling off the stage, even to one Maddy Forsyth being thrown into the show only moments before it opened, the genuine laughter and fun that these actors shared made this show sparkle with such a honest and beautiful light that seems to be missing from too much theater.
Carried effortlessly on the backs of their four starring actors (Steven Pond as Antipholus of Ephesus, Daniel Whiting as Antipholus of Syracuse, Justin Stockett as Dromio of Ephesus and Nick Grossaint as Dromio of Syracuse) the shows’ pacing was impeccable, slowed only occasionally when a stray ensemble member would join the scene to further the plot. Standout performer Spicer Carr kept each monologue exact and purposeful, making sure that if the audience started to get lost that they were brought immediately back by a spritz bottle to the face.
The ingenuity of this play was limitless, from doorknob choreography to cross-dressing kitchen maids, to the suspenseful idea that a recently encountered “wench” might actually be the devil. The Comedy of Errors actors simply told a story and let the audience’s childish imaginations roam free for the remainder of the evening. The result was magnetic. Never before have I seen random passerbys stop on their walk or jog and sit to watch the remainder of a show they came to half way through—the mark of true magic!
The Grassroots Shakespeare Company is not without flaw, though. While performing in such an open and large space proved to be no match for these veterans, it certainly was taxing vocally. Actors that failed to speak up quickly lost my interest, and I disregarded them. I was also sometimes confused about who I needed to pay attention to. With actors in the audience, actors behind the stage, and actors on the stage, sometimes it became difficult to focus on the story, as I was much more interested in a character that looked strikingly similar to Christian Bale’s American Hustle conman or a begging old man in bondage roaming the audience for spare change. Such tiny details to complain about, but—thankfully—they seemed to be the only things I could complain about.
With such a stellar cast and stellar concept, and some minor flaws (which actually enhanced the overall product) Comedy of Errors was the best two hours of my week. So grab some bug spray, cuddle up under your blankets, and fall in love with some cheesy, riotous Shakespeare fun.