He took a long break. But Shakespeare is back at Good Company Players.
The last time the company produced a show by the Bard was in 1993 with "Twelfth Night."
Now Shakespeare returns with a new version of "The Comedy of Errors" at the 2nd Space Theatre. This fast-paced, audience-pleasing romp about two sets of identical twins separated at birth is receiving a highly physical, meticulously designed production done in the breezy Commedia dell'arte style. Here's a rundown:
The play: One of Shakespeare's earliest and shortest plays, "The Comedy of Errors" opens with a wandering father named Egeon. It seems he lost track of his twin sons — and the twin servants attending each — in a mishap that left each twin unaware of his sibling. Little does Egeon know that one master-and-servant pair ended up in the city of Ephesus and the other pair has just arrived. The play is chock full of audience-pleasing ingredients: mistaken identities, silly wordplay, alleged infidelities, sight gags. Toss the double identical-twin storyline into the mix, and it's guaranteed buffoonery.
The director: J. Daniel Herring, who previously directed "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "Skin Deep" for Good Company, is a Fresno State theater professor who has also directed extensively for StageWorks Fresno.
The concept: "I didn't want to do just a traditional Elizabethan approach — I wanted to do something fun for the audience," Herring says. He chose the Italian style of Commedia dell'arte, which was known to Shakespeare, and was exemplified by traveling bands of Italian actors who would often set up temporary stages in the villages they passed through. The actors would draw upon recognizable stock Commedia characters — such as Arlecchino (also known as the Harlequin, always acrobatic and witty), Il Dottore (the Doctor, a caricature of book learning) and Il Capitano (the Captain, a caricature of a swaggering soldier) — to interpret the roles of whatever play they were performing.
What this means for the production: Commedia dell'arte is known for its stylized physical movement — and lots of it. For example, in the introductory speech of Egeon, the father, as he tells the audience the back story about his sons, most productions would be content for it to merely be a vocal moment. But Herring, using the framing device of a "play within a play," has his performers act out Egeon's words.
"Shakespeare's language is still there, but the physicality offers another layer of meaning to what's going on," Herring says.
The design: Another Commedia dell'arte impact is recognizable design motifs. For example, the Harlequin character's costume is known for its distinctive diamond-shaped patterns. Because GCP has never done a Commedia-style show before, coming up with a slew of stock-character costumes was a challenge for costume designer Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed, Herring says. Same goes for scenic designer David Pierce, who had to craft the specific look for the "play within a play."
The cast: Many in the cast of 13 play doubled roles — another Commedia custom. Genders are freely switched, even among the major characters. One set of twins, Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus, are played by two men, Matthew Schiltz and Ken Stocks, as is traditional, but the two Dromios are played by Danielle Valdivia and Brianne Vogt.
Inside tip: Listen for the actors using the gibberish speech known as Gramalot during ad-libbing moments. It's a Commedia dell'arte custom.
The goal: Herring hopes that the production's breezy style, boisterous physicality and stock characters will help this "Comedy of Errors" be accessible to all, even those who might not be very familiar with (or be intimidated by) the Bard.
"I want people to walk out after the show and say: 'I didn't know Shakespeare was so easy to understand.' "
"The Comedy of Errors," through Oct. 12, 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave. www.gcplayers.com, (559) 266-0660. $18, $15 students and seniors.