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“My approach when directing Shakespeare is making it an accessible and fun evening,” said David Harris, lead director of the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival’s current production of “The Comedy of Errors.”
Now in his 14th year with the Sacramento City College/City Theatre tradition, the 46-year-old Harris said his day job as an educator takes a back seat to his festival role as a people-pleaser when it comes to summertime mountings on the William A. Carroll Amphitheatre stage in William Land Park.
“If people want to bring picnics
and hang out at the park, that’s great,” said Harris, a former SCC faculty member now on staff at Folsom Lake College. “We’re trying to appeal to the whole family with this production. The goal is to give them something that is fun and pleasant and enjoyable.”
In boosting the already high LOL quotient of Shakespeare’s farcical “Errors,” which plays in repertory with “King Arthur” through July 29, 2012, Harris and co-director George Schau have added stylistic elements from such diverse sources as 16th-century Italy (commedia dell’arte) and 20th-century America (Abbott & Costello).
But don’t expect the two pairs of twin brothers central to the hijinx of “Errors” to channel the comic duo and reenact their “Who’s on First?” routine.
As Harris said, he and Schau are Shakespeare devotees. While they’re not opposed to boosting the delivery speed of the Bard’s banter a la Bud and Lou, or taking a sledgehammer to the fourth wall in keeping with commedia traditions, Bill’s nomenclature is sacrosanct.
“We have made no cuts or alterations,” said Harris. “I like to do that with all of my productions of Shakespeare as much as possible. What he wrote is such a musical thing. To alter that seems wrong to me.”
No “alterations” means no rewriting, including a ban on throwing in topical or local references to garner cheap chuckles from the River City crowd.
“In fact, George (Schau) was insistent that we don’t do that,” Harris said.
Introducing modern commedia elements to “Errors” is another matter, he said, as it affects staging or blocking rather than language.
“Using commedia is superfun, and allows for a back-and-forth between the actors and the audience,” Harris said. “It leaves Shakespeare’s words on stage as he wrote them, but provides room for some improvisation.”
“The actors are fairly aggressive in their interaction with the audience,” he continued. “It’s very commedia in its approach.”
Additional staging and design tweaks include a single actor playing each set of twins (Kevin Menager plays both Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus; Tara Henry takes on Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus), with only a whimsical quick change of coats signifying the quick change of character.
In addition, designer Nicole Sivell, who’s been with the festival since 1998, evokes the hardware-heavy ensembles worn by “Star Trek: The Next Generation” heavies the Borg by augmenting “Errors” actors’ costumes with vacuum-hose sections.
“Nicole’s costumes are just past anything you could expect,” Harris said, noting that Sivell is also playing with costume-piece proportions as well as materials.
“The idea is that the Syracusans are traveling the world looking for their twins, and encounter witches, mermaids and devils. The look of this place should be very strange, and Nicole has costumed all the people in this world with over-the-top Cirque du Soleil-inspired costumes.
“She’s outdone herself on this one.”
Harris and Schau’s creative contributions also include musicians (Peter Harding, Ismail Houraira) playing onstage, and a bit of belly dancing performed by actress Sarah Rowland as a courtesan.
Harris said he hopes the traditional mix of festivalgoers – which range from first-timers who have never seen a Shakespeare play performed live, to casual attendees (the majority), to those who count down the days until the next event – will embrace his and Schau’s “Errors.”
“This one is as much of a piece of candy as any play Shakespeare did,” said Harris. “A sweet treat.”
JUST THE FACTS
WHAT: The Sacramento Shakespeare Festival production of "The Comedy of Errors"
WHEN: 8 p.m. July 6, 7, 12, 14, 19, 21, 26 and 29 (gates open at 6:30 p.m.)
WHO: Written by William Shakespeare; directed by David Harris and George Schau; scenic design by Shawn Weinsheink, lighting design by Stephen Jones, costume design by Nicole Sivell, choreography by Lalena Hutton; featuring Kevin Menager, Tara Henry, Alejandro Padilla, Maszaba Carter, Skyler King, Ismail Houraira, Cathy Hardin Schau, Mar-y-sol Pasquiers, Mikayla A. Lambeth, Jacob Vuksinich, John Crabtree, Andrew Simon Zelny, Matthew Malone, Coleman W. Daniel Jr., Sarah Rowland, Shante Scrugs, Kathleen Poe, Sinead Kennedy
HOW MUCH: $18 (general admission); $15 (students, seniors, SARTA members); www.sacramentoshakespeare.ticketleap.com
MORE INFO/TICKETS: (916) 558-2228; www.sacramentoshakespeare.net
Editor's note: Edits were made to this article after publishing.