CTC stages ‘Comedy of Errors’ at circus

Katie McLean | Staff Photographer
Jacob Dresch and Mary Wiseman as Dromio

In Andrew Borba’s eyes, William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors is true entertainment.

“What’s funny and what’s flip, those are two different things,” said Borba, director of Comedy and Chautauqua Theater Company associate artistic director. “I’m very much interested in what’s really funny, and I think that comes from true, human behavior. There isn’t a human being who can’t associate or wonder who they are, or have been in a situation where the world started acting against them and they had no idea why. It’s completely universal.”

CTC’s production of Comedy, which plays at 6 p.m. Saturday in Bratton Theater, speaks to Borba’s idea of true entertainment, allowing the audience to fully connect with the characters onstage.

Largely considered one of Shakespeare’s only farces, using a good amount of slapstick and wordplay, the tale speaks to identity.
Within the world of the play, two sets of identical twins (each pair separated at birth) are seeking their siblings, often finding themselves in situations of mistaken identity and the resulting satiric shenanigans.

But as the cast and crew began delving further into the show, they discovered that almost every character within the play is searching for some semblance of identity, Borba said. Shakespeare continues to ask the same question of ”Who am I?” and “Where do I fit into the world?”

And, within the text of Comedy, that world is not a malicious one. Borba said that there is no evil or dark in this play; while there may be many mishaps and mistakes, every character is striving for a positive outcome and, of course, a happy ending.

“There’s a real heart to this play, there’s a joy … to this play,” Borba said. “When you have people who are either social outcasts or odd in the social world, as all of these characters are, you realize this resonance of ‘Who am I?’ is deep.”

Of course, in this conceptualized version of Comedy, the characters are definitely outcasts. Set in a turn-of-the-century circus, the characters come straight from a sideshow, including a bearded lady, lion tamer, strong man, fat lady and mermaid, among others.

“I had this idea all the way back in college,” Borba said. “I was reading the play my senior year in college and was just thinking about the play and reading about the characters and really interested in — I guess I still am now — pulling things out of the text that would resonate on a different level.”

Trying to keep the farcical spirit of the show, the circus-esque characters he developed are direct literary metaphors, Borba said. For example, the character Luciana is called a “siren” within the text; she has taken on the traits of a mermaid. The bearded lady comes from a character that is wrestling with a woman’s role in society and questioning why she can’t have what a man has.

“I think that there is an external force of chaos that comes into this play, and as I started to think about that, that’s when the gorilla [character] came on board,” he said. “We’re really sort of playing up this notion that there is an animal chaos taking over this incredibly ridiculous world.”

In preserving that absurd world, Borba said that the play has not been dumbed down and most of the text has remained intact, just slightly trimmed. Stating that there is not a person in the world who wouldn’t understand this play, Borba promised that almost anyone who comes to see Comedy will have a good time.

Additionally, Comedy is a chance to see the entire CTC conservatory on stage together. Though most of the students have had an opportunity to work on a Shakespeare play before, this play is a perfect introduction for those students or even audience members who are not as experienced with the Bard’s work, Borba said.

“[The actors] are bringing such openness and play to it that it doesn’t feel like I’m working with a younger cast,” he said. “I was thinking the other day that I’m not sure I would want to do this play with an old cast. For me, both as a director and an educator, it’s been delightful to watch them come to something.”

Borba enjoys watching the students come into Shakespeare and present the play as it was meant to be.

“I’m constantly trying to demystify Shakespeare because I think with Shakespeare — yes, it was written 400 years ago — our job is to do it well,” he said. “And, if it’s done well, everyone in the world will understand it, because it’s human beings moving through the world; that still happens today.”