Staging Shakespeare on the internet has been an interesting challenge for local theatre companies. Zoom, YouTube and Facebook Live and Twitch all have their own issues. It’s painfully difficult to bring across the immediacy of Shakespearian drama and comedy over the internet. Door Shakespeare tackles the challenge with clever retro-whimsy in its virtual production of The Comedy of Errors. Director Michael Stebbins and company have come up with a clever way of embracing the limitations of the internet in a pre-recorded production that’s played like the lost episode of a Door County local access cable show.
Cheesy, low-budget very early 1980s cable-access-style video ties together a cast of actors on green screen backdrops complete with the occasional 8-bit-like video game-style animations, silly editing techniques and more. Locations change from domestic settings to various places in and around the Ephesus Shopping Mall. (The climactic scene takes place in a roller rink in the mll.) Scenes are announced via pastel interstitial title cards accompanied by ’80s-style corporate elevator synth-pop music.
Though the the heavily-edited one-hour plot may be a bit difficult to follow for those not already familiar with the story, there IS a fun, Shakespearian comedy that rests at the heart of a pleasantly weird pre-produced video package. Duane Boutté carries a smart balance between comedy and dramatic weight as both Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus: two guys who have never met before who only happen to be identical twins. Through the magic of low-res, VHS-quality video editing, Charles Frasier matches Boutté’s performance as identical twin Dromios. Frasier is as good in the comic relief roles as Boutté is in the more balanced pair of leads. The cast is remarkably well-balanced from there. Linda Stein wields a canny empathy about her as Adriana--the wife of one Antipholus who is unwittingly confused by both of them. Rayne Kleinofen plays to a deeper compassion as Adriana’s sister Luciana. James Carrington rounds out the cast in a few roles. He’s got a dramatic gravitas about him as the condemned merchant Egeon. He dials-down the intensity with a comic nuance in the role of a courtesan who gets mixed-up in the action.
As with its production of Rosalind earlier in the pandemic, Door Shakespeare has once again shown a clever approach to the unique challenges of producing video content for local theatre audiences that is distinct from all of the rest of the fare that’s available over the internet. A sharp cast is edited together in a pleasantly strange and whimsical mutation of a classic comedy. It’s not live theatre in an idyllic outdoor space in Door County, but it’s satisfying in a wholly unique fashion.
Door Shakespeare’s virtual production of The Comedy of Errors runs online through November 16. For more information, visit Door Shakespeare online.