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Posted April 9, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Double trouble: Twins cause turmoil in 'The Comedy of Errors'

Matt Baldoni reacts
Matt Baldoni, an actor at Wayside Theatre, reacts when he is confronted by 16-year-old twins, Jessica Davison, left, and her sister, Jennifer, in Wayside Theatre's production of "Comedy of Errors" to be held at Skyline High School. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Paul Rush and Baldoni yell and scream
Paul Rush, 15, left, and Baldoni yell and scream during a chase scene from "The Comedy of Errors."

Warner Crocker directs a chase scene
Warner Crocker, right, artistic director for Wayside Theatre, directs a chase scene in the upcoming production. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Sarah Blackwell leads a file of screaming actors
Sarah Blackwell, left, director of education for Wayside's Education in Action program, leads a file of screaming actors in an elaborate scene from the Shakespeare comedy. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- When two characters look so similar to each other that they are able to induce mass confusion throughout a story, that's comedy. Add in another set of look-alikes, and watch as hilarity ensues.

Just ask the Davison twins, who play two of the lead characters in William Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors," Wayside Theatre's latest play.

"I didn't like Shakespeare 'til I did this," Jennifer Davison said at a recent rehearsal of the show at Skyline High School in Front Royal. "Now it's fun."

"Now I'm like, 'Shakespeare's cool,'" said her twin sister, Jessica.

The 16-year-old Millbrook High School students won the roles of the Dromio twins basically because they were lucky enough to be born on the same day, said Sarah Blackwell, director of education for Wayside's Education in Action program, who asked the twins to audition for the show.

"It's a play about twins, and we figured we have twins -- we should do the play," Blackwell said.

The Davisons may have been in the right place at the right time, but they are succeeding in raising the bar on what began as a fanciful way for local young actors to perform with professionals.

Blackwell hoped the Davisons would do well in the show; now she and her fellow career actors are running to keep up, she said.

"We've been very lucky that it worked out to our favors," she said.

"The Comedy of Errors" will be Jennifer and Jessica's first experiences acting in a Wayside show, they said, though they have been working in the theater for years, both in school and with Wayside's program. Jennifer and Jessica worked as two of four playwrights on "Virginia Ghost Stories" last fall.

"They owned the entire play, from pencil to curtain," Blackwell said.

In "Errors," the Davisons play twins accidentally separated as babies. Jennifer plays Dromio of Syracuse, and Jessica, Dromio of Ephesus, each a servant to his respective Antipholus -- that's right, "his." The girls play boys in this play, which so far has not fazed them. At first they tried to deepen their voices and adjust their postures to emulate they way boys would act, but instead decided to just play it natural, which has proven to work well for them.

Just being themselves has helped them especially considering Jennifer and Jessica dress alike off the stage and talk alike -- even to the point of finishing each other's sentences or speaking in unison.

The fact that their characters also dress alike -- as do the Antipholi -- will increase the sense of uncertainty for all involved, but most especially those watching the show.

"It's supposed to be confusing for the audience," said director Warner Crocker. "Very Abbott and Costello."

Though many plays of the same nature have been written over the last 400 years using twins or other look-alikes to create confusion throughout the plot, Shakespeare was not the first to introduce the idea.

"This is not a new thing," Crocker said. "You could say that Abbott and Costello stole from Shakespeare, but Shakespeare stole from Plautus."

The whole play is just about who's who, he said, indicating that the confusion is the main source of the comedy.

After years separated from their respective identical twins, Antipholus of Syracuse, played by professional actor Matt Baldoni, and Dromio of Syracuse, travel to Ephesus in search of their lost brothers. When they arrive, though, they are bombarded by townspeople who mistake them for their brothers. The brothers in Ephesus, though, are oblivious to the knowledge that they even possess lost relatives.

To increase the hilarity, Crocker, set designer Til Turner and costume designer Catherine Lovejoy moved the town of Ephesus into a circus tent.

"We thought it was so silly enough ... that they belonged in a circus," Blackwell said.

"We have cast Ephesus as a bizarre little circus-type scary place," Crocker said. "Ephesus is kind of like Mardi Gras, 24/7."

The set and costumes were the only artistic liberties Crocker said the crew took with the production. The language of Shakespeare has remained the same as have the names of the characters -- Dromio means bondsman or slave, and Antipholus seems to be a word not used since Shakespeare's time, Crocker said.

Not everything about the plot is funny.

"I guess just the way that it's overdone," is what Jessica said she thinks will keep the audience laughing despite some more serious plot occurrences, such as characters taking out their anger on unsuspecting twins or other townspeople. The Dromio twins suffer more than their twin masters certainly, but they also succeed in conveying the messages of loyalty and honesty, prevalent within all the misunderstandings.

"We find out just how silly we are as human beings when we refuse to confront the truth," Crocker said.

He said he hopes offering another of Shakespeare's plays will allow the theater the opportunity to help students become interested in the playwright's works.

"I absolutely adore it," Blackwell said of "Errors," explaining that this is the second Shakespearean play the Education in Action program has chosen within its first two years. Last spring, the group presented "Romeo and Juliet."

"We're building an audience for the future for Shakespeare.

"I hope the audience will have a great time experiencing this piece with us, because it's really silly and it's really fun," Crocker said.

Wayside Theatre's Education in Action program will present Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" on the stage at Skyline High School, at 151 Skyline Vista Road in Front Royal, on April 17, 18 and 19 with evening showings at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and matinees at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Two student matinees will be available on April 21 and 22. Tickets are $12-$15 for adults and $10 for children 5-17. For tickets or more information call the box office at Wayside at 869-1776 or visit the Web at www.waysidetheatre.org.

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