Bard on the Beach creates a giddy Comedy of Errors

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      By William Shakespeare. Directed by David Mackay. A Bard on the Beach production. In the Mainstage tent in Vanier Park on Saturday, June 13. Continues until September 26

      The Elizabethan era explodes like a helium balloon in David Mackay's production of The Comedy of Errors. Purists beware: Shakespeare's wit provides only one thread of the comedy in Mackay's giddy take on the Bard.

      Comedy follows Antipholus and his servant Dromio, who turn up in the hometown of their respective twin brothers, also named Antipholus and Dromio, from whom they were separated as infants. A string of mistaken identities ensues. This is one of Shakespeare's silliest plays, which gives Mackay licence to throw in every bit of nonsense he can think of.

      Mackay's Elizabethan staging provides an opportunity for an irreverent send-up of the period. In the opening scene, Christopher Gaze's Duke of Ephesus enters dressed as the Virgin Queen herself, complete with jewel-encrusted red hair and a spectacular gown. He admonishes his attendants with a reminder that “This is Shakespeare!”, whereupon everyone on-stage breaks into a momentary jig.

      This playful metatheatricality pervades the show, as Mackay sprinkles in countless other Shakespeare gags: a dumb show, a dancing bear, and even a cameo by the Bard himself. He also tosses in more contemporary elements, like puppets, spitballs, and Satan—and plenty of unauthorized dialogue. Some of it is hilarious; some of it feels gratuitous.

      Mackay's cast members energetically embrace the director's anything-goes approach. As one of the Dromios, Ryan Beil is endlessly inventive; he's especially funny when describing the corpulent kitchen wench who's mistaken him for her husband. Colleen Wheeler seethes as Antipholus's wife, Adriana; Jennifer Lines offers a poised and intelligent counterpoint as her sister, Luciana; Allan Zinyk shines in a number of small but outrageously eccentric parts; and Amber Lewis is a strikingly saucy Courtesan.

      Murray Price's sound design is a gleeful hodgepodge, drawing on everything from Gregorian chants to the Doors. Kevin McAllister's deceptively simple painted backdrop heightens the sense of whimsical play: it looks like, and sometimes functions as, a puppet theatre. Costume designer Mara Gottler outdoes herself here, with outfits that range from the height of sumptuousness for the nobles to jaw-dropping depths of vulgarity for the low characters.

      Irreverent, bawdy, and defiantly anachronistic, this Comedy feels true to the comic genius of Shakespeare, even as it thumbs its nose in his face.