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Lakewood Playhouse gives the Bard a contemporary twist

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Lakewood Playhouse is an institution. Now in its 77th season, it is far older than the City of Lakewood, which was not incorporated until 1996. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of continual use of the theater building that currently houses the organization. The Villa Plaza, the Lakewood Mall and now the Lakewood Towne Center have successively occupied the surrounding area while the theater held firm through thick and thin. It is now sandwiched between the Pierce County transit hub and the nondescript building that contains the Old Country Buffet.

Last weekend saw the opening of Lakewood Playhouse’s second offering of its 77th season: “A Comedy of Errors,” one of William Shakespeare’s earlier works. Lakewood Playhouse’s version has been slightly adapted from the original. Much of Shakespeare’s original script is intact, but the setting is now contemporary: Portland, Ore., not Ephesus. The outsiders come not from the island of Syracuse, but from Seattle. The production is thus like a mash-up of the television show “Portlandia” and Shakespearean comedy.

Director Kristie Worthey calls the play a tongue-in-cheek look at the friendly competition between Portland and Seattle. “This is not your mother’s Shakespeare,” said Managing Artistic Director John Munn in his introduction to the play.

All of the gags in the story are set off by the mistaken identity involving two sets of identical twins that have been separated at birth. One set, a merchant’s son and his servant, were brought up in Seattle while the other wellborn son and his servant were brought up in Portland. The story of how the whole family came to be split up in an airplane crash (in the original, it was a shipwreck) is told near the beginning of the show. Enigmatically, the wellborn twin boys both have the same name, as do the twin servants. There is a Portland Antipholus and a Seattle Antipholus; a Portland Dromio and a Seattle Dromio. The Portland Antipholus is married to a well-off local girl but is something of a playboy. The Seattle Antipholus is unmarried and falls in love with the sister of his Portland doppelganger’s wife. It is all very convoluted and the gag of mistaken identities soon wears thin. For those of us rusty in Elizabethan English, it is sometimes difficult to unravel the swift-flowing Shakespearean dialogue. Mercifully, there are plenty of pithy asides that lighten things up. The use of rock guitar riffs in the interludes and the frequent antics of the characters (all dressed in quirky outfits that are examples of Portland “weirdness”), also keeps things humming along.

Many of the actors seem to lack conviction – preoccupied, perhaps, with the monumental task of spewing out all of the bard’s flowery dialogue. The two female leads, however, manage to deliver their lines with both fluidity and emotional content. Jodie Chapin as Adriana – wife of Portland Antipholus – breathes fire into her fury and soaks us in her sorrow. Nastassia Reynolds manages to steal the show with her yoga-practicing version of Luciana, the unmarried sister of Adriana. One of the most sublime moments in the production features Reynolds sitting Buddha-like on the central dais while Chapin circles around on roller skates sporting bright red hair, a polka dotted shirt and red shorts. As she circles, Chapin flawlessly belts out her poetic lines.

Frank Roberts does an energetic version of both versions of Dromio and Ben Stahl comes through on double duty as both versions of Antipholus. There is a great deal of acrobatics, music and comic relief from a talented cast that includes Ashley Mowreader (nice balloon sculptures), Sabrina Ebengho (high energy), Tre’mar Baptiste (great fencing poise), Jill Heinecke (a sultry courtesan), Andrew Redford (points for juggling), and the rest of the cast and crew. Rebecca Thorpe’s flute-playing street vendor provides some of the best laughs with her non-Shakespearean remarks. Honorable mention needs to be made of Isaac Gutierrez, Chris Johnstone, Adam King, Cameron Waters and Virginia Yanoff, all of whom hold their own in this comedic romp.

Brett Carr’s spare set consists of suspended cutouts of Portland landmarks and a central dais accessed by four ramps. Nena Curley’s costume designs, meanwhile, keep the audience thinking of Portland with characters in outfits like Gutierrez’ ensemble of a kilt, top hat and a tee shirt emblazoned with a Darth Vader mask that is decorated like a days-of-the-dead skull.

“A Comedy of Errors" runs through Nov. 29. Shows are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. “Pay What You Can Thursdays” are Nov. 12 and Nov. 19 at

8 p.m. For further information visit www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.

 

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