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Home :: Archive :: 1991 :: February ::
Comedy of Errors in Performance
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 54. Saturday, 16 Feb 1991.
 
Date:   Sat, 16 Feb 91 17:28:49 EST
From:   
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Subject: No Fear of Farce
 
     I am new to SHAKSPER, and I have been reading with pleasure the
materials that are sent to new members.  I thus take up an old thread,
which I hope is not yet frayed out.
 
     I was delighted and enlightened by Stephen Miller's comments on
the theatrical season in London, and by his preview of things to come.
On one small point that Stephen Miller makes, I venture to offer an
alternative opinion.
 
     In noting a production of *The Comedy of Errors*, he mentions the
"distracting gimmick" of having two sets of twins played by two actors
instead of the usual four.  Of course it's a gimmick, but I don't
think it has to be distracting.  I have attended a number of
productions of this play, and I found that they were none of them as
funny as they could be because too little was made of the identity of
the identical twins.  Now the play touches lightly on somber themes
and occasionally elicits serious emotions, but I would argue that its
primary purpose is to entertain the spectators by making them laugh.
The play is a farce, after all, so the more laughter the better.
 
     Farce is a puerile form, Eric Bentley tells us.  It appeals to the
anarchic child in all of us, and producers of farce resort unashamedly
to puerile gimmicks.  When I directed the play last spring, in a
production that played both at my university and at middle and high
schools all over New Hampshire, I used two actors to play the two sets
of twins.  Each twin from Syracuse had a large red S on his chest.  (S
for Syracuse and--happy accident--for Superman).  Each twin from
Ephesus had a large blue E.  The red S's were permanent parts of the
costumes.  Whenever a twin from Ephesus entered, he would be tossed a
disc containing the blue E which, through the magic of velcro, he
would slap on to his chest.  A boy from Syracuse would change
instantaneously into a boy from Ephesus.  When a twin from Syracuse
entered, he would rip the blue E off his chest, revealing the red S
underneath.  Hey presto! a boy from Ephesus became a boy from
Syracuse.  This became a running gag, and it worked with every
audience.
 
     My conclusion is that one actor for each set of twins can result
in a funnier production, as long as you create a means for the
spectators instantly to tell the twins apart.  One of the great truths
of Shakespeare's comedies, and of most good comedy for that matter, is
that the audience must always be at least a jump ahead of the
characters.
 
David Richman
University of New Hampshire
 

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