Shakespeare BASH’d has had a very good run at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Their yearly shows, 90 minutes of pared-down Shakespeare set in the upstairs room at the Victory Cafe, lend themselves to a convivial (and drink-friendly) atmosphere, and tend to sell out quickly. This year’s The Comedy of Errors is the company’s Fringe swan song; as the Bard himself said, parting is such sweet sorrow.
The Comedy of Errors is relatively minor Shakespeare, so the question might be, why end here? The answer is that it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and a good party.
The story is very silly and almost inconsequential, but to summarize: Antipholus and his manservant Dromio are each one of a pair of twins who were to grow up together, but were separated by shipwreck; one pair is in Syracuse, the other in Ephesus, and both brothers have the same name. Antipholus’ father has been looking for his son, who’s gone off in search of his missing brother. His bad luck, he winds up landing in an Ephesian port where merchants from his place of origin must pay an enormous fine or be put to death.
By a different stroke of luck, the son and servant from Syracuse are also in Ephesus. They encounter people who think they are their counterparts. Misunderstandings and wackiness ensue. A lot of wackiness.
I’ve seen other BASH’d productions at the Victory before, and I think this is one of my favourites. The 90 minutes absolutely flew by, and not just because of the breakneck delivery of the dialogue (which was also largely delivered with refreshing clarity), but also because of the judicious and well-placed cutting.
It helps that this is one of only two Shakespeare’s plays that happen essentially in real-time, aiding pacing and flow. Being a play that relies almost entirely on dramatic irony and mistaken identity, it also doesn’t have too many layers to miss if they’re left on the cutting room floor, and fewer people remember every detail. Whatever the case, it works well.
They’re not the first company to do this, but in a bit of suitable-for-a-small-stage inspired lunacy, both Dromios and Antipholuses are played by a single actor apiece. This leads to a little bit of awkwardness when the characters find themselves in the same scenes as their counterparts, but it also adds humour, particularly because no attempt is made to disguise an actor jumping back and forth.
It also helps that both actors are standouts. Kelly Penner’s spoiled Boy Scout of an Antipholus is a joy to watch; one version projects adorably naive terror, the other exudes the phrase “don’t you know who I am?” from his pores (which is, of course, somewhat ironic). Tim Welham’s put upon set of Dromios might be even funnier, and the pair are dynamite together. Suzette McCanny also makes the most out of her role as the wife of Ephesus’ Antipholus, seething with confusion and frustration.
The double-casting of other roles also makes the most of the dramatic irony, particularly when Antiopholus is disparagingly describing the appearance of one character to another, both having been played by the same actor (nice reactions from Brenhan McKibben).
The space is well-trod by the actors, particularly in forays out into the audience and an ever-shifting door, though it would be nice to have a more defined reason to present this particular play in this particular space, rather than it being a stage that happened to also be in a bar. The atmosphere will still leave a smile on your face, though, and the ability to have a beer couldn’t hurt, even if it’s already hard enough to tell everyone apart.
- The Comedy of Errors plays at Victory Cafe. (518 Markham St)
- Tickets are $12 at the door or in advance, and can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Friday July 1st, 07:00 pm
- Saturday July 2nd, 05:00 pm
- Saturday July 2nd, 09:00 pm
- Sunday July 3rd, 05:00 pm
- Tuesday July 5th, 07:00 pm
- Wednesday July 6th, 07:00 pm
- Thursday July 7th, 07:00 pm
- Friday July 8th, 07:00 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 07:00 pm
- Sunday July 10th, 05:00 pm
Photo of Suzette McCanny by Kyle Purcell