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Photograph by R.R. Jones

Punch-Drunk Love: Left to right: Ryan Artzbager, Gabriel Ortiz and Lucas Alifano in 'The Comedy of Errors.'

The 'Errors' of Our Ways

SSC sets the famous Shakespeare farce right here in Santa Cruz for a brilliant opener

By Cindy Campo

Stir thyself to merriment, fair reader--five happy weeks of Shakespeare Santa Cruz await thee. The redwood glen at UCSC now offers an impressive performance of The Comedy of Errors (the other two plays this year are Hamlet and Noel Coward's Private Lives). But delay not, for the days of summer quickly pass.

It takes an outstanding director to pull off an outstanding production, and Errors' William Partlan--in his SSC debut, no less--is already operating at that level. He chose modern Santa Cruz as the setting, and a walk down West Cliff during his first days in town inspired him to incorporate wheels into the production as a recurring motif that comes off marvelously. Bicycles, kick-scooters and mopeds don't just lend another thematic level, they also get the actors on and off stage that much faster.

Meanwhile, all the vehicular intrigue creates a sense of constant motion, even though the actors are not always rolling. Barely averted collisions onstage appear deceptively accidental, but the buffoonery is pure professionalism. It just goes to show that being an actor requires a willingness to play, especially in a comedy.

Near-misses and mistaken identity are, after all, the name of the game. For those who seem to have misplaced their Cliffs Notes, The Comedy of Errors is about two sets of identical twins who get separated just after birth and end up years later in the same town. As you might expect, each of these characters in continually mistaken for his brother, and thus begins the chaotic adventure.

All the confusion may somehow point to deeper questions about the nature of truth and illusion, but for the most part this Shakespearean romp is definitely on the easier-to-grasp side, which makes it a delightful summertime show. The visual gags are pretty much no-brainers--head noogies and head bumps, as well as booty grabbing and goosing, are just the beginning. At times, the mayhem feels like a circus, especially with the colorful, funky costumes. And the fun isn't confined to the stage, as the action spills over and audience is pulled into it.

Any modern interpretation of a work written more than 400 years ago can be tricky, but this one comes off without a hitch. One character, Dr. Pinch, rolls onstage surrounded by an entourage of dreadlocked chanters. He's wearing a plastic pyramid on his head, which gives him just the right amount of weird for a play set in Santa Cruz. In the opening scene, a Syracusian about to be executed by the Duke of Ephesus is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit labeled "SC City Jail." They're cute touches, right down to the authentic Italian New Yorker accent of one of the Antipholuses.

Since the story takes place mostly during the day, you may do best to see an afternoon performance. Either way, get thee to the best outdoor venue in the land. You won't be disappointed. And keep an eye out for the koi.

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From the July 23-30, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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