Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" Presented By MSU Theatre & Dance
It’s slapstick comedy as only Shakespeare could do it: his 1594 farce “Comedy of Errors,” in a new production by the Missouri State University Theatre and Dance Department, running November 21-24 in the Craig Hall Coger Theatre. We talked with Dr. Kyle Thomas, MSU Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance and Coordinator of the department’s BA/BS Theatre Program. He’s in his first semester on the faculty, and directs this production.
Before coming to Missouri State, Dr. Thomas was on the theatre faculty at University of Indianapolis, after finishing his Ph.D. in Theatre at University of Illinois. A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, Thomas and his family made numerous vacation trips to the Ozarks. “I had known that Missouri State had a really strong theatre program. And so, when I got the interview for the job here, I was really excited. I just got more excited meeting the faculty, seeing the facilities, getting to know the department a little bit more. And I was just elated when I got the call to come here, join the faculty and be a part of this great department.” Thomas’s doctoral dissertation, and his major area of interest, is in medieval theatre. “So it’s really fascinating being able to direct ‘Comedy of Errors.’ Having the perspective of the decades and centuries leading up to the period of Shakespeare’s life in the 16th century, has been really enlightening on a lot of levels. Shakespeare is very much an ‘early modern’ theatre playwright, but he kind of represents a period of change, a shift in attitudes and cultural understandings of what theatre is and what it does--from this more medieval flavor, if you will, to a much more modern, professional, and public theatre flavor.”
Two sets of twins, accidentally separated at birth, find themselves in the same town, and confusion and chaos quickly ensue during one very busy 24-hour period. “It’s a very busy show,” said Dr. Thomas. “There are lots of mistaken identities. Shakespeare is really showing off his ability to take a particular comedic trope—the ‘mistaken identity’ idea—and then double it and do even more with it, make it even more confusing and crazy. And it’s been a lot of fun to work with this super-talented cast and figure out how to make it funny for our audiences today, and make it still relevant and interesting.”
Within the two sets of twins, there are two masters, and two servants. Both masters are named Antipholus… the only way to tell them apart is by referring to them by the cities from which they came: Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholis of Ephesus. The same holds true for their servants: Dromio of Syracuse, and Dromio of Ephesus. “They happen to find their way into the same town at the same time [the play takes place in Ephesus], and everybody is completely confused,” according to Dr. Thomas. “Antipholus of Syracuse… has come into [Ephesus] looking for his long-lost brother. And in the midst of this, Antipholus of Ephesus happens to be married—Antipholus of Syracuse is not. So you have a wife who is very confused about why her ‘husband’ is not paying attention to her, and doesn’t seem to know her. You have merchants that are constantly looking for payment for goods and services rendered that they are not receiving. It just makes for a really hilarious time—there’s a lot of physical comedy that we bring into it as well.”
Although there are two sets of twins, productions of “Comedy of Errors” always seem to cast the roles with four different actors, rather than two actors doing double duty. As Kyle Thomas explained, “The way Shakespeare has written this, there would be a ton of lines to learn” if one actor played both Antipholus characters and one played both Dromios. “And there’s a lot of movement back and forth, where one Antipholus is led off the stage, and as soon as he’s off the stage a second Antipholus is coming in. Or the Dromios as well.” And their costumes are different. Still, said Dr. Thomas, “You’ll find that our costume design really helps out with the twin look, and gives that sense of these two characters being related and connected.”
Performances of “Comedy of Errors” in Coger Theatre are Thursday through Saturday Nov.21-23 at 7:30pm, and Sunday the 24th at 2:30pm. But the Theatre and Dance Department will also give a special daytime performance for the “Any Given Child” program, the national Kennedy Center initiative designed to provide enriching arts and cultural experiences for students in grades K-8. “We will have several hundred eighth graders come to campus next Friday morning (the 22nd),” said Dr. Thomas. “There will be two sections, and we’ll do a performance roughly about 30 to 45 minutes for them, that will also give them a chance to do a Q and A with our cast, and learn a little more about what it’s like to be a college actor and to do something like a work of Shakespeare.”