by Sam Hurwitt, published by The Mercury News on July 31, 2019
Comical confusion abounds at Santa Cruz Shakespeare this summer, as “The Comedy of Errors,” the Bard’s wild farce of twins and mistaken identity, rotates in repertory with “Pride and Prejudice,” Jane Austen’s romantic comedy about a strong-willed woman falling in love with a dreadful snob.
Director Kirsten Brandt’s staging of “Comedy of Errors” is gender-swapped except for just a few roles, a touch that makes the antiquated gender politics of the 16th-century comedy (based on an ancient Roman play) a lot more interesting.
It’s also a 1980s-themed production with a distinct “Miami Vice” aesthetic in Dipu Gupta’s pink-walled set and in B. Modern’s gaudy costumes and Jessica Carter’s wigs. Elton Bradman’s sound design is replete with ’80s hits and movie themes.
Things will get more complicated still on Aug. 6 when Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” joins the mix in the company’s lovely outdoor space in DeLaveaga Park.
Jennifer Erdmann is a comically bewildered Antiphola, a newcomer in town continually confused for her long-lost local twin, also played by Erdmann with breezily louche charm. Patty Gallagher is a clownish delight as the much-abused servant Dromia and her local counterpart. Artistic director Mike Ryan is amusingly fuming and preening as local Antiphola’s jealous husband Adriano, and Madeline Wall is always stretching and working out as Adriano’s sister Luciana, aghast yet aroused at the other Antiphola’s advances.
It’s a funny production of a funny play, though the pace could stand to be tighter. It’s interesting to see how much less brutish the twins are as women. The Antipholas’ violent tempers in particular come off as more venting than actual abuse.
“Pride and Prejudice” is a popular choice for theaters, albeit in countless different adaptations by different playwrights. (TheatreWorks Silicon Valley will premiere an entirely different musical version in December.) This one is by Kate Hamill, whose adaptation of “Vanity Fair” was presented by American Conservatory Theater earlier this year and whose “Sense and Sensibility” was performed by Lafayette’s Town Hall Theatre last year. Center Repertory Company will also be performing Hamill’s “Pride” in Walnut Creek next spring.
Allie Pratt is a wryly witty Lizzy Bennet, amusingly exasperated by Lindsay Smiling’s stuffy, somber and vexingly snobby Mr. Darcy. Carol Halstead is amusingly over-the-top as Mrs. Bennet, an always appallingly overenthusiastic matchmaker for her four daughters. (Fifth sister Kitty is omitted entirely.)
Hamill often makes great comedic use of actors playing many roles, and that’s done superbly throughout director Paul Mullins’ production. Allen Gilmore is entertainingly sardonic as Lizzy’s father and amiably forthright as close friend Charlotte.
Blandly sweet as elder sister Jane, Karen Peakes makes comically squeaky noises as Darcy’s invalid cousin. Madison Pullins impishly misbehaves as youngest sister Lydia and is unconvincingly haughty as the overbearing Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Landon Hawkins is a riot as dour and petulant sister Mary Bennet, whose lurking startles everyone, and uncomplicatedly upbeat as sister Jane’s suitor Bingley, who’s treated literally like a puppy. Ian Merrill Peakes is hilariously grotesque as Bingley’s clumsily condescending sister and as the Bennets’ flailingly animated cousin Mr. Collins, and he’s nicely understated as roguish charmer Wickham.
It’s a particularly strong adaptation of “P&P,” and the liberties Hamill takes only make it stronger. The dialogue is more riffing on Austen than taken from her, with a lot of great running gags and amusing intentional anachronisms. Characters speak their truth in a way that feels awfully authentic, illuminating more than undermining the original, with some sharp observations about women’s limited options in the period. It’s a delightfully witty story to begin with, and this cheeky take on it is an absolute triumph.