Bard in the Quad Returns with Comedy of Errors

Corrections: Attendees do not have to wear masks unless they go inside the building.

One of the highlights of the summer months for many Corvallisites is Bard in the Quad, the outdoor performances of Shakespeare plays on the north steps of the Memorial Union, facing onto the grassy quad which is Oregon State University’s “front lawn.” 

Even though the plays are performed outdoors, with the audience seated on the grass, it was considered too unsafe to stage any performances in 2020, so it’s a precious sign of normal life returning for there to be Shakespeare on the Quad once again. There will be performances on August 5-8 and 12-15 in the Memorial Union Quad, each beginning at 7:30 p.m. General admission tickets are $17.00, for students and seniors $12.00, and for OSU students $5.00. A ticket booth will open at 6:30 p.m. 

All people attending will need to wear a mask if they go inside the building. Life hasn’t, alas, completely returned to normal. 

This year’s play is one of Shakespeare’s shortest and lightest, A Comedy of Errors. It’s a very simple and familiar story: Egeon has come to Ephesus from Syracuse in search of his wife and his son’s twin brother, both long vanished. The cities are so hostile that Egeon will be executed unless he can pay a huge fine. Hearing this story, Dolinus, Duke of Ephesus, gives Egeon one day to raise the money. He has no idea this adopted son Antipholus is the long-lost twin of Egeon’s son, also named Antipholus, or that Antipholus’ servant Dromio has a twin named Dromio. What might happen with two identical guys named Antipholus, each with identical servants named Dromio, running all over Ephesus?  

In this production, there are a number of interesting touches. The sets are quite traditionally Shakespearean, which is to say they’re extremely basic: a couple of benches, a couple of potted plants, a door which can be held up when a door has to be barred to keep someone from entering, and a window which can be held up when someone must be scolded from it. 

The actors never quite get carried away, though the script clearly tempts them. Shakespeare fills it with all sorts of physical humor, sexual innuendos and, well, fart jokes. Director Liz Helman doesn’t shy away from them or try to minimize them. She also doesn’t think Shakespeare needs to be preserved as a perfect period specimen. Just as Shakespeare had no problem with an ancient Ephesus which had clock towers that rang the hour, she has no problem with ancient Greeks who smoke cigars and drink beer while they give off lad-snorts and Beavis-chuckles while disco music plays in the background. 

The voices of the actors also play from the speakers, which is a good idea, since the audience will be spread widely across the Quad. Unfortunately, it sometimes makes it difficult to tell who is speaking, since the characters’ voices don’t issue directly from the actors. 

Most of the costumes are charmingly color-coded in bright colors: Antipholus is blue, Dromio is green, Luciana is purple, Angelo the goldsmith is (appropriately) gold. Most of the costumes are fairly generic “ancient Mediterranean” tunics and robes, but some are distinctive: Pinch the Conjuror, who is called in to cure the “madness” of Antipholus (since Antipholus of Syracuse doesn’t seem to recognize the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus) is a faith healer in an ice cream suit, complete with a Panama hat on his head and a Bible to thump. Logically enough, Taylor Stageberg as the Gaoler wears a crested helmet and knee-high leather sandals and looks suitably official. Less logically, Ellie Smith as the Second Merchant is a music hall cowgirl in riding boots and hat, and wears a pair of six guns with which at one point she… well, let’s not spoil all the fun. 

The comedy is in the errors, and the unique quality of this production is a sight to be seen. So go to the Quad this weekend and next and check it out. 

By John M. Burt 

 

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