Southern Oregon Theatre Arts sets its production of Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" in Ephesus — a place that looks a lot like Ashland — and the play's Syracuse takes on the quality of Medford.
"The set is sort of a mash-up of Ephesus and Ashland," says Director David McCandless. "Syracuse, of course, is not represented as a locale. Our production is set entirely in the Ashland-like world. The contrast between Ephesus — a land with a reputation for hedonistic excess and sorcery — and the more straight-laced Syracuse is built into Shakespeare's play. Our contemporary take on it is a playful, stereotyped contrast between conservative and loose, licentious worlds. It becomes an affectionate spoof of Ashland."
The story of two sets of identical twins accidentally separated at birth, Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio, arrive in Ephesus, which turns out to be the home of their twin brothers, Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant, Dromio.
"Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse are bewildered and bedeviled by this strange place that from their perspective lives up to its reputation, especially with the whole mistaken-identity trope," McCandless says. "Their experiences confirm the kind of place Ephesus is."
Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" is a chaotic vaudeville of mistaken identity as the brothers persistently seek their long-lost twins.
The Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University will present its production of "The Comedy of Errors” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 27, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 28, and 3 p.m. Sunday, May 29, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.
Tickets are $22, $10 for ages 24 and younger and can be purchased online at craterian.org/boxoffice, at the Craterian box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., or by calling 541-779-3000.
The SOU production will run in the Craterian Theater because SOU's Theatre Arts Building is under a long-awaited renovation.
“To paraphrase a line from 'Shakespeare in Love,' " says Craterian Executive Director Stephen McCandless, "SOU had a play, and we had a theater."
As befits a play about brothers, SOU’s production is directed by professor of theater David McCandless. He and sibling Stephen McCandless grew up in Medford and pursued careers in different directions, until their separate professional trajectories returned them to the Rogue Valley.
SOU's production of "The Comedy of Errors" will bring more heart and gravitas to a play that is usually staged as knockabout farce, says SOU production dramaturge Ashley Eldred.
“The emphasis is on Ephesus, because that’s where play is set,” Eldred says. “The Syracusians keep talking about what a spooky place it is. So our production doesn’t so much play up the Medford and Ashland rift as it has fun with the idea of Ashland as wild and weird.
“Our production will be funny,” she says. “But it won’t be a clown show. We’re taking the characters as real people, we’re teasing out themes that scholars routinely flag but that don’t always find their way into productions — themes such loss and recovery, the instability of identity, and the fragility of marriage."
"It's more of a thoughtful comedy," David McCandless says.
A particularly telling change, Eldred says, is the Dromio twins — the brothers' servants — will be played as sassy kid sisters.
“In the original play,” she says, “the Dromios are clueless lackeys who spend much of their time either getting beaten up or talking about getting beaten up.”
SOU also has turned Shakespeare's comedy into a quasi-musical with live music presented by The Fret Drifters, a local trio featuring Andy Casad and Nick Garrett-Powell on guitars and Jim Sitter on cajon.
"The production has some singing and a little bit of dancing," David McCandless says.
The cast of SOU theater students includes Jon Cates as Egeon, Meg Chambers as Dromio of Syracuse and Galen A. Molk as Antipholus of Syracuse. Antipholus of Ephesus is Kyle Sanderson, Dromio of Ephesus is Samantha Miller, Chandler Parrott-Thomas is Adriana, and Truett Felt is Luciana.
Other student-actors are Connor Chaney, Havilah Criss, Jadi Dicksa, Madeline Flemming, Ian Hagen Fyfield, Ethan Hennes, Taylor Hood, John Alan Hulbert, Alex Magni, Helen Thea Marcus, Stefani Potter, Jacob Raiter, Lakia Solomon, Hayley Thirlwall, Tavis Williams and Aleah Zimmer.
SOU students Anthony Ascencio and Earl Wiskow designed costumes and sound, respectively, and faculty member Noah Beauregard designed lighting for the show. Stage manager is Lane Harrison, and technical director is Lucas Donert.
Set design is by SOU theater faculty Sean O’Skea, who has created a minimalist, colorful set for the Ephesus street scenes.
"He loved the idea that the setting is a mashup of Ephesus and Ashland," David McCandless says. "So he created funny signs for local businesses based on Roman comedies. For instance, The Black Sheep is represented at The Black Centaur. My favorite is a funny take on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's early slogan for its outdoor theater.
"It reads, 'Stay four days, see four plays, unless you're from Syracuse.' "