Friday, May 02, 2014


February 2, 1960

The program notes for University theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” express surprise that it is not played more often.  After seeing it, one knows why.

In fact, one wonders why University theatre purposefully selected what is notorious for being Shakespeare’s worst comedy, if not the worst of all his plays.

It was probably selected because it was felt the comic and slapstick elements in the play could make a successful light production, if not a memorable one.  But, without a cast of dyed-in-the-wool, hardened professional comics this is impossible no matter who is producing the play.

In other words, “Comedy of Errors” is a lousy play.  It was badly written and poorly constructed and followed through.  The comic scenes are repetitious and dull.  One is never quite sure, of all the twins, who is on the stage, and one is worn out watching the play without having derived any merriment from it.

Shakespeare listed the play from Plautus’Menechini,” where he should have left it.  It is one of Shakepeare’s earliest comedies, and it has all the signs, a complicated plot; stiff, unnatural dialogue; and a peculiar, undeveloped mixing of tragic and comic elements.

So, given these preliminary problems, there is little a cast of university players can do but bear with the play and try to get around it by using what little they know and rarely get to practice about low, slapstick comedy.

There is little desire on the reviewer’s part to continue.  The play is a bad one.  the players and director did their best but what resulted was not an entertaining production.  The only production of the “Comedy of Errors” that ever had any potential was Rogers and Hart “The Boys from Syracuse,” a 1930’s musical saved by the music.

To the credit of the play, it was well-paced and never dragged, a decided possibility in the tedious unraveling of the plot in the second act.  The action was good and the players told their story without belaboring it.

In addition, the play looked good.  That is, the groupings and movement on stage was quite effectively done by means of different levels and a variety of entrances off and onto the stage.  There was a studied effort to place the characters where they would look the best in relation to other characters and to the plot.

Set against a most effective background, built to represent a street in early 19th century Europe, the stage pictures were very pleasing.  However, the contortions the actors went through to set up these stage pictures not only wore out the actors but also the audience.  At once point, the abbess walks across the stage, up some stairs, and turns immediately around and comes back down, while reciting a speech.

On the debit side, there is the acting out of the play.  It was dull and rarely humorous.

If there was an outstanding performance, it was certainly that of Paula Ragusa [later Paula Prentiss], as Adriana the shrewish wife to one of the twin brothers.  She was the perfect shrew with the loud voice and the flaying arms.  [sic]

Paul Hardy, as the twin Antipholus of Syracuse, did a competent job.  He gave his lines what life he could, but did his best work in pantomime and silent reaction to situations.  Several of the comic bits he and Larry Smith, as his servant Dromio, were the most effective in the play.

Smith, who played both twins Dromio, was most enjoyed by the audience.  He resorted to low comedy routines, as he should have, rolling on the stage, falling, doing double takes, and acting generally unaware of much that was going on.

If there was any fault in his performance, it was that he over-played his part without working with anyone else on stage, except Hardy.

Bill Pogue, as Antipholus of Ephesus, and Sharon Risk, as Luciana, Adriana’s sister, read their poorly written lines without inspiration, in contrast to Hardy and Ragusa.

And Robin Deck, as the courtesan, looked and acted the part brassily enough but never stopped moving the entire time she was on the stage, although attention was rarely centered on her.

The costumes were the poorest this season.  Although there is no particular objection to doing the comedy in Empire dress, the colors are badly matched (particularly that of Antipholus) and the women’s costumes appeared to have been hastily thrown together, one swatch of material over another.

It is too bad that University theatre had to select a comedy like this one to display its talents.  At least “Endgame” was a conscientious effort to experiment and “Caesar and Cleopatra” was an entertaining extravaganza.

This play was last produced at Northwestern in 1939.  Perhaps it would not be asking too much to wait 40 instead of 20 years before the next production.

[Notes:  Weeks never does name the director, but -- judging from the cast -- I suspect it was Krause.  Perhaps it was also Krause who directed in 1939, maybe to better reviews.  But this is speculation.]

Here's a pre-performance publicity clip from the Daily Northwestern.  There was no story.  Thirkield's name is misspelled. Paula Ragusa is unnamed.  

1 comment:

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Larry Smith was the director as well as playing Dromio - Bill Striglos was dressed identically and played the second Dromio in the last scene. That's me in the picture, playing the Abbess.

Kate Pogue

The director was Dr. Mitchell. I was in it playing Dr. Pinch, quite badly as I recall.

Marshall Mason

I guess we’ll have to find the program to know!

Mary Strachan Scriver