Island Stage Left invites you to leave your worries on the doorstep and enter a fantasy land of mistaken identities in their new production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, starting Thursday, July 14. Professional actors from Seattle and beyond join Daniel Mayes and island regulars for a monthlong run, Thursdays-Sundays.
The play revolves around two pairs of identical twins, separated in childhood, who don’t realize that for the first time in decades, they’re in the same town. People mistake the two who have just arrived for people they’ve known for years. When women and money enter the picture, confusion begets jealousy, mistrust and righteous indignation –all of which is very funny.
“Everyone’s personal norms have shifted, and that sets them off balance,” says director Helen Machin-Smith. “A woman’s husband – well, the man she thinks is her husband – is suddenly not behaving the way he usually does. He scarcely seems to know her. And when he gives money to the person he thinks is his reliable servant, that person is no longer reliable, either.” Because it isn’t actually the right servant; it’s his twin.
As always in Shakespeare, language itself is a spectator sport. The characters’ frustrated confusion results in many marvelous insults, from the simple, “Thou peevish sheep!” to the wonderfully elaborate, “Mutt, malt-horse, capon, coxcomb, idiot, patch!” And the twin servants weaponize verbal humor as their only defense against increasingly crazed employers.
But this isn’t just a sitcom. A number of years ago, when ISL co-founders Machin-Smith and Daniel Mayes were actors at Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival, she performed in The Comedy of Errors:
“At Ashland, it was just done as an out-and-out farce, and the first time we did it here at Stage Left, we did it that way, too. But this time I appreciate much more the depth of it, the human truth of each character. It’s a more difficult balancing act as a director to find the truth and the farce at the same time. It’s tricky. But I’m enjoying exploring what lies underneath the silliness. It is so typical of Shakespeare to have depth in the humor.”
“The twins don’t know what’s happening or why. One of them is a pretty straight guy, with a wife and a bit of a bad temper. He’s a man about town who likes to think of himself as a great host, and he’s stymied when everything he takes for granted is suddenly taken away, he’s shut out of his house because his twin is in there, mistaken for him. And he loses his sense of self. Meanwhile the other twin is showered with all those things – he has a taste of marriage, gets all the good meals, everybody’s really nice to him and gives him things, money, a gold chain, rings. And he’s stymied, too, because – why is this happening?”
Of course all is revealed in the end, and a long-separated family is reunited. Along the way Shakespeare has made poignant fun of marriage, infidelity, bosses, status, naiveté – in a word, humanity.
In keeping with the anything-may-happen spirit of the play, Machin-Smith has set it in a fantasy version of the 1960s. A technicolor set by local artist Susan Williams features psychedelic murals; 60s music threads through the show. The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour sets the tone: expect the unexpected!
The Comedy of Errors: Thursdays-Sundays at 8pm, July 14-August 14 at Island Stage Left, 1062 Wold Road on San Juan Island. No show July 23.
All performances are outdoors. Covid protocols in place. A seating area will be designated for masked patrons who want to sit separately from unmasked. Chairs are provided, but bring blankets and/or warm clothes (even parkas) for when the sun goes down. Admission is free, donations gratefully accepted.
Further info: www.islandstageleft.org (360) 378-5649