By John Horan -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Diverting is the word for "The Comedy of Errors" at Shenandoah Conservatory.
Not content with a straightforward approach to one of Shakespeare's most frivolous plays, director Mark Kittlaus sends in the clowns -- not Bozo or Bello, but a commedia dell'arte troupe, those masked characters who roamed Europe performing improvisational pantomimes centuries ago.
The conceit is clever -- "the comedy of craft," to translate the Italian term, performing "The Comedy of Errors" -- and gives an extra boost to Shakespeare's tale of lost twins and mistaken identity.
Most of the actors sport vivid clown costumes, courtesy of Cheryl Yancey, and some wear garish masks, which they helped design. Many characters possess chronic tics -- fingers or feet perpetually in motion, mincing steps or legs moving in a kick line -- and there's a steady stream of clowns racing and flopping around.
While the rampant tomfoolery supplements the play, it is also a diversion -- some would say a distraction. The cast seems to revel more in the sideshow, and that Kittlaus places such emphasis on the antics suggests his wariness of the charms of "The Comedy of Errors" itself, a resort to the sugar-coating Mary Poppins recommended for medicine.
Still, Shakespeare's works have always been malleable, amenable to stagings set in different eras and locations, and the Bard, who lived during the era of commedia dell'arte shenanigans, welcomed engaging stagecraft.
As for the cast, Stephen Strosnider and Jake Emmerling are fine as the long-lost twins. Cristina Merino and Niki Morrisette are equally charming as their perky servants.
Lindsey Mitchell plays the haughty wife and Jenna Pinchbeck, her flighty sister.
David Bazemore is the smarmy goldsmith and Jonathan Carlucci the creepy Pinch. Chasing one of the servants, Liz Kinder conjures Mrs. Doubtfire.
Kevin Selwyn is poignant as the father. Paige Herschell is a magisterial duchess and Emily Lynn, the steely abbess.
Madeline Woods supplies a handsome village square anchored with townhouses. The sensitive lighting is provided by Wm. McConnell Bozman.
"The Comedy of Errors" continues at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre today at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 665-4569 or at www.su.edu/conservatory.