All-female production creates a lively comedy of errors

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By Doug Deuchler

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Engaging performances fill the new all-female production of William Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors. Produced by the Saltbox Theatre Collective in the studio performance space at Madison Street Theatre and tightly directed by Brian Fruits, the show runs about 90 minutes without any intermissions. The lively action never drags.

The intimate black box space is devoid of color — no scenery or set changes. But the actors are all wearing vivid, brightly-colored costumes that remind you of a Bollywood film. The performance space is brilliantly ablaze in fabric, a melange of Middle Eastern and Asian garments. This is not Elizabethan period attire, of course, but it's a feast for the eyes, especially in the big scenes when the stage is full of Fruits' large and diverse cast of actresses. 

Costuming is by April Hunsucker.

Many characters also wear classical masks, created by Saltbox artists, which are fascinating.

This is one of the shortest and earliest of The Bard's works. It has long been considered an apprentice effort. Though it's fun and frantic, there is not much emotional depth or intellectual heft. But that has always allowed acting troupes to put their own distinctive spin on this early-1590s comedy about identical twins. This venture, with its all-actress cast, is often hilarious.

Shakespeare was actually the father of twins, so perhaps he was drawn to developing a plot with identical siblings. Shakespeare ups the ante by offering two sets of confusing doubles. This tale of mistaken identity — twin masters, twin servants — features look-alike "guys," who all arrive on the same scene at the same time.

The two sets of twins, separated by a shipwreck years earlier and seemingly lost to each other, end up in a rowdy, rollicking farce of witty back-and-forth comedy, often punctuated by slapstick physical comedy.

Antipholus of Syracuse (Emily Steward) and "his" bumbling, comical servant Dromio of Syracuse (Victoria Montalbano), arrive in Ephesus, which turns out to be the home of their twin brothers, Antipholus of Ephesus (Sabrina Harms) and his servant, Dromio of Ephesus (Sabrina Harms). A series of wild mishaps occur, resulting from the on-going mistaken identities. 

Playing the twin servants — the child-like, innocent Dromios brothers — Harms and Montalbano are fine comediennes who frequently steal their scenes. 

Egron (Regina Leslie), the doting father of the lost Antipholi twins, provides initial exposition about the long-ago shipwreck when he lost his wife and baby sons, plus their infant servants.

Of course, one wonders why parents would name their identical babies the same name or how helpful a pair of infant servants, also identically named Dromio, might be. But in a place of magic and mayhem, I guess we cannot be too realistic. This play wouldn't work otherwise.

The climactic scene when the "errors" of the title begin to correct themselves and the two sets of twins finally meet is genuinely moving.

I was a bit confused in the early episodes since all the performers are female yet almost none of them are cross-dressed as men. A few, like Rosemary Foley who plays a male merchant, wear a mask with a large mustache. But at times I was initially disoriented as to the gender identity of other characters.

Long-suffering Adriana (Stephanie Stroud), wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, gets caught up in all the mistaken identity. She is upset thinking that her husband is paying attention to another woman.

There are romantic entanglements as well. Luciana (Rebecca Botter) is Adriana's unmarried sister, object of Antipholus of Syracuse's affection. She tries to calm Adriana but then gets caught up in the madness herself.

Angelo, a shifty goldsmith, is played by Danelle Swanson. 

There's a gargantuan kitchen wench played by Joanne Bomba who's simultaneously funny and scary. 

Amelia, an Abbess, played by Joy Schoeph, shows up late in the plot in a pivotal role.

Johnathan Boehle and Danielle Swanson are the assistant directors. 

Musician Julie Siarny provides periodic punctuation on the flute and breaks in the action. There is no intermission.

Other cast members include: Gloria Alvarez, Beth Harris, Regina Leslie, Jessica Litrenta, Allison Schier, Kamara Thornton, Madelyn Tomko, Alyssa Vierneza, and Bernadetta Zawiejska. 

The Saltbox Theatre Collective has launched a production that's inventive, lively, and unique.

Saltbox Theater Collective's new production of "Comedy of Errors" at Madison Street Theatre, 1010 Madison runs through Oct. 23. Performances are Oct. 7-8, 14-15, 21-22 @ 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 8-9, 15-16, 22-23 @ 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for seniors and students: www.sbtcomedy.brownpapertickets.com or at the door with cash or credit cards.

Doug Deuchler is a longtime educator and historian who, when he isn't reviewing local theater for Wednesday Journal, is a stand-up comic, tour guide/docent, film class instructor and author of several books about Oak Park and surrounding communities.

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