It was evident from watching Annapolis Shakespeare Company's director and cast members rehearse Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" that this young company is making astonishing strides — not small steps, but artful leaps. It was also clear that the show's opening would be a lively comic treat.
Last year, I reported on ASC's progress from a small workshop taught by Sally Boyett-D'Angelo in summer 2009 into a thriving young company that had already become a full member of the county's established nonprofit performing-arts community.
Much of this success is attributable to Boyett-D'Angelo, the artistic director who channeled her students' passion for Shakespeare into three successful stage productions while guiding the procuring of grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and the city of Bowie. Those grants allowed Annapolis Shakespeare Company to become the newest of the four resident companies at Bowie Playhouse in July 2011.
At a recent "Comedy of Errors" rehearsal conducted by Boyett-D'Angelo, it was clear that her enthusiasm has not diminished as she displayed an easy cordiality with several young actors. The atmosphere was collegial as they became involved in a lively interchange of ideas on characters' motivation. Boyett-D'Angelo offered advice on a range of issues such as proper inflection, creating vocal variety, emphasizing action verbs and savoring instances of alliteration in lines like "sailors sought for safety."
Now in the process of becoming a fully professional company, the ASC cast has moved from high school-age to a collection of four young professional actors, seven pre-professional college actors and advanced high school actors who now have the opportunity to learn alongside experienced performers.
The cast also has expert help from a group of stage professionals. Assisting Boyett-D'Angelo is noted voice and text coach Nancy Krebs and fight choreographer Paul E. Hope (master swordsman at the Folger Theatre). Set design is by Washington scenic designer Stephen Royal, and music is directed by arranger/composer Joshua Boulden. Garrett Hyde provides excellent lighting.
ASC ensures its production has something offer for audience members of all ages.
"The classical text will appeal to Shakespeare purists, and the hip twist with a steampunk theme and time travel will appeal to younger theatergoers as well," Boyett-D'Angelo said.
The play, originally set by Shakespeare in Ephesus and Syracuse, has moved to 1890s Paris, a time and place of technological advances as heralded by the Eiffel Tower, built for the 1889 International Exposition.
Our time travel to turn-of-the-century Paris reveals an era of cynicism and romanticism in celebrating decadence and, in the bohemian community of Montmartre, the flourishing of radical ideas in art before World War I and the loss of illusions. In some instances, we may see similarities to our own era, and we will find that Shakespeare travels as easily to 1890s Paris as to our time.
"The Comedy of Errors" is the story of two sets of identical twins separated at birth and miraculously thrown back together again. Boyett-D'Angelo describes it as "a hilarious romp of mistaken identity," one in which "the entire town is thrown into the madness."
The story is told 33 years after its occurrence by Syracusan merchant Aegeon, the father of twin sons, both named Antipholus, who were to be served by another pair of twins, both named Dromio. While traveling home with sons and servants, Aegeon and his wife were shipwrecked. Aegeon saved only one Antipholus and one Dromio.
Antipholus and Dromio arrive in Ephesus in search of their long-lost twin brothers, unaware that their father has also arrived on the same quest. As a citizen of Syracuse at war with Ephesus, Aegeon has landed illegally and is arrested and condemned to death unless a ransom is paid by sunset.
Unknown to all of them, the lost Antipholus and Dromio have been living in Ephesus for years. In Ephesus, the strangers are greeted like old friends, and Antipholus of Syracuse finds he has acquired a wife.
Mistaken identity and hilarious confusion flourish in Ephesus before all is resolved in a happy ending.
Performances are scheduled at Bowie Playhouse at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5; 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9, and Friday, Aug. 10; and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online at annapolisshakespeare.org or by calling the box office at 410-415-3513.