Shakespeare and the out of doors go together naturally — not surprising, given that many Elizabethans got their first exposure to his plays in an open-air amphitheater.
For the better part of 15 years, Bard fans and fireflies have taken in the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival's al fresco season on the meadow behind the Evergreen Museum and Library. And, for nearly a decade, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has celebrated the greatest English-language playwright with performances given at the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute on a hilltop above Ellicott City.
This summer, the Baltimore troupe offers a breezy, polished staging of "The Comedy of Errors," running in repertory with Moliere's equally farcical "Scapin."
The "Errors" production benefits from a scenic design by Allison Campbell and costumes by Kendra Shapanus inspired by Magritte's iconic surrealist painting "The Son of Man" (you know the one — male figure in black suit and bowler hat, face obscured by a green apple). This clever and stylish visual package sets an ideal tone from the get-go for all the mayhem generated by a plot that revolves around two long-separated sets of twins whose lives intersect one fateful day in Ephesus.
One of Shakespeare's earliest and shortest creations, the play has lost little of its comic fuel over the centuries. The mistaken-identity collisions, confused or unwelcome pangs of love, Three Stooges-anticipating bouts of physical assault — they still can hit the spot. And they do so easily under the direction of Joe Brady, who keeps the pace suitably frantic and gets a fleet, inviting performance from a high-caliber, tightly-matched cast.
Peter Mark Kendall, as Antipholus of Syracuse, gives a particularly winning portrayal, full of nuance, vitality and communicative ease (Shakespearean seems to be his native tongue). Brendan Ragan's Antipholus of Ephesus is likewise vibrantly, engagingly drawn. As Adriana, the woman whose life gets unusually complicated by the arrival of man looking exactly like her husband, Gina Alvarado does terrific work, animated by a wide array of vocal colors and inflections.
Peter Boyer makes an amusing mark as Dromio of Syracuse, especially in the scene where the character compares a kitchen maid's body to various countries of the globe — one of Shakespeare's rudest, crudest and, of course, funniest passages, given extra zing here. The engaging Mark Krawczyk earns his share of laughs as the other Dromio. Mary Werntz is a charming Luciana. The other actors provide able support, each taking multiple assignments (life-sized cut-outs cleverly aid in this multiplicity).
One of Brady's fun ideas is turning the conjuring Dr. Pinch (Matthew R. Wilson) into an odd-ball Dr. Freud. Deftly chosen bits of background music, notable Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," add the finishing touches to the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival's amiable production.
The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is presenting an earnest, if uneven, staging of "Hamlet" (running in repertory with "Much Ado About Nothing"). Director Ian Gallanar, who also does a stylish turn as one of the Grave Diggers, takes a straightforward approach to "Hamlet." Some scenes, notably the finale, catch dramatic fire; others could use more animation or more imaginative use of the space (the ghost's appearances are especially dull).
Patrick Kilpatrick is a passionate Hamlet, but he speaks his lines more forcefully than compellingly; subtle layers go unexplored. David Tabish steals the show as Polonius with a wonderful singing quality in his voice, abundant personality in his characterization. Michael Boynton is a sympathetic Laertes. Steve Beall has some telling moments as Claudius. Rebecca Ellis warms up for the mad scene, but her Ophelia is otherwise bland. Jenny Leopold's stiff, monotonic delivery keeps Gertrude from registering fully.
In the end, though, the production serves the drama to sufficient effect, while reiterating the company's continued devotion to brilliant Bard.
The Baltimore Shakespeare Festival presents "The Comedy of Errors" and "Scapin" through Aug. 1 at Evergreen Museum and Library, 4545 N. Charles St. Tickets are $10 to $25. Call 410-366-8596 or go to baltimoreshakespeare.org.
The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company presents "Hamlet" and "Much Ado About Nothing" through July 25 at Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, 3691 Sara's Lane, Ellicott City. Tickets are $15 to $30. Call 410-313-8874 or go to chesapeakeshakespeare.com.