Theatre studies students at Red Deer College are delving into the flat-out fun and many charms of a Shakespearean classic for their season opener this year.
A Comedy of Errors opens Oct. 10 in Studio A, with curtain set for 7:30 p.m.
Performances continue through to Oct. 19.
“This whole play is about mistaken identity,” explains director Jeff Page. “Two sets of identical twins end up in the same city, and that’s where it begins.”
The twins were separated at birth, and when both sets end up in the town of Ephesus, a chain of mistaken identities and hilarious encounters with the unusual townsfolk occur. The result is one wacky and magical evening of comedy.
“The perfect time period I find for almost every Shakespeare play, like when we did A Midsummer Night’s Dream last year, is the 1910-20 period,” he explains. “That’s because a lot of Shakespeare’s plays are about liberating women one way or the other, or they at least feature that at some point.
“The big argument in this play is about why do men get to do what they want and we don’t?”
It’s a topic that bubbles up via a series of scenarios, and because A Midsummer Night’s Dream was set in that period last year, Page opted for the 1950s to 1960s era instead. “If you can find an era that is relevant to something going on in the story, then it makes sense.”
Page has directed A Comedy of Errors before – at the Freewill Shakespeare Festival in Edmonton. “I think it’s a pure farce. It’s based on a Roman farce. And he sets plays in the Mediterranean, so the people are very passionate.”
This rendition at RDC features 18, second-year theatre arts students. “What I love is that they are so willing to really find the real passion and desperation that makes this funny.”
Page said his approach focuses on exploring the play and what it stands for – it’s not so much about his personal interpretation of a particular work. “My job as a director is to figure out what’s happening and convey that in a way so that we are all on the same page – actors, technicians, designers, myself – so that we are all going in the same direction; we are all using the same map.
“So I didn’t change anything in terms of my preparation – what changed were the actors. The best thing I can do is to be open to the new actors and not try to conform to some idea I had in the past.
“All characters spring from this combination of what’s written and who is doing it. I would not be doing anyone any favours if I was approaching it trying to match my other production or trying to be different from another production.”
Page also said he encouraged the students to look at it like it was a brand new production. “Let’s not look at it like it’s some great work that we all have to be scared of. Let’s look at it like it’s a new play that we need to decode – like with every play.”
As to the play’s comical nature, Page said the secret to farce is to take it very seriously. “We’re not trying to do a comedy, we’re trying to do a play where someone might say ‘I’m really upset because I think my husband’s going crazy because he doesn’t remember talking to me 10 minutes ago.’ Or ‘I’m really upset because someone keeps calling me by a name and they act like they know me, but I’ve never seen them before.’ The deal is that they really have to play it seriously.”
Page relates it to a story about the legendary actor Sir Laurence Olivier who was in a production where hell’s breaking loose and his character is simply asking for a cup of tea. It would bring the house down. “But as they did the scene more and more, it wasn’t getting as big of a laugh. He asked a fellow actor why that was, and was told he had stopped asking for a cup of tea and had started asking for a laugh.”
As for the enduring appeal of Shakespeare, Page points to the Bard’s understanding of the dramatic situation. “He just has a way of phrasing things. And a lot of people I know consider him the first real humanist of theatre in the way he was talking about women in a different kind of way.
“One of the things that also resonates is that there was this man in the 16th century that could address poetically his ideas that really are at the core of the human struggle – questions of identity, of love, of oneself versus one’s own character weaknesses and just functioning in the world.”
For ticket information, call 403-755-6626 or visit www.blackknightinn.ca.