Sun, sand, salsa, and Shakespeare

From left: Zophia Gozynska, Larry Coen, Dan Roach, and Jennifer Ellis in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s “The Comedy of Errors.’’ From left: Zophia Gozynska, Larry Coen, Dan Roach, and Jennifer Ellis in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s “The Comedy of Errors.’’ (Photos By Andrew Brilliant/Brilliantpictures Inc.)
By Terry Byrne
Globe Correspondent / August 7, 2009

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The toe-tapping tempos of mambo and salsa music set the tone for “The Comedy of Errors,’’ Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s 14th annual free staging of Shakespeare on the Common. Director Steven Maler has set the production in South Beach, Miami, in the 1930s, complete with lifeguard, sand, beach balls tossed into the crowd, and surfers who make their entrance through the audience. And the show opens with a comic collection of characters who dance across the stage, including a pair of bumbling Keystone Kops, a group of nuns, a woman promenading with a greyhound, and an assortment of workers and tourists who represent the denizens of the beachfront community.

The festive atmosphere is perfectly appropriate for this early comedy, which is short on subtlety and long on sight gags and pratfalls. The action turns on a series of scenes of mistaken identity involving two sets of identical twins, and the humor quickly heads into the wacky world of farce.

Maler knows his ensemble is playing to crowds of upward of 5,000 people every night, so performances are delivered with the broadest strokes. The opening dance routine shifts smoothly into the arrest of Egeon (Fred Sullivan Jr.), who has come to Ephesus (a.k.a. South Beach) illegally to search for his son Antipholus of Syracuse (Dan Roach) and his son’s servant, Dromio of Syracuse (Larry Coen). They, in turn, have snuck into town in an attempt to locate Antipholus’s twin, Antipholus of Ephesus (Josh Stamell) and Dromio’s twin - you guessed it, Dromio of Ephesus (Remo Airaldi) - from whom they were separated in a shipwreck when they were babies.

The stars of the production are the dueling Dromios, played with distinctive delight by Airaldi and Coen, dressed in knickers, matching argyle socks and sweater vests, and bright orange tam o’ shanters perched on their heads.

Coen truly steals the show with his delivery of Shakespeare’s rhythms and his fearless physical comedy. His description of the ways in which the kitchen wench Nell desires him is hilariously creative, and his description of his geographic exploration of her impressive girth is a tour de force.

Not all the performers are up to Coen’s abilities, and the women in particular tend to sound shrill nearly all the time. This might not be so noticeable if it didn’t contrast so sharply with Cheryl Singleton’s calm and clear Abbess, who also turns out to be the long-lost mother of the twin Antipholuses and wife of Egeon.

Costume designer David Israel Reynoso has dressed much of the company in vivid oranges, pinks, yellows, and greens, and set designer Jon Savage has created a visually arresting backdrop of blue panels on a multitiered set that Maler takes full advantage of, moving the actors swiftly up, down, and all around every available playing space.

To keep the screwball comedy flowing, choreographer Yo-el Cassell also does a terrific job using dance routines as scene transitions. His choreography is fluid and athletic, spills all across the stage and into the audience, and helps keep us oriented to the South Beach setting.

Shakespeare neatly ties up all his loose ends, but the climax of this production is a production number of “Let’s Face the Music,’’ led by Rebecca Whitehurst and featuring the entire cast, which sends the crowd home dancing.

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS Play by William Shakespeare

Directed by: Steven Maler. Set, Jon Savage. Lights, Scott Pinkney. Costumes, David Israel Reynoso. Choreography, Yo-el Cassell. Presented by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.

At: Parkman Bandstand, Boston Common, through Aug. 16. Free. 617-426-0863,

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