Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
With footballers to the north the White House gleaming in the background, Long Walk Indians to the west, the Lincoln Memorial glittering at their backs and a white full moon towards the east, the south slope of the Washington Monument Thursday rollicked to early, frivolous Shakespeare.
"The Comedy of Errors" was opening a 10-night run at the Sylvan Theater for what has been a mysteriously well-kept secret, revealed when Larry Neal, chairman of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, read his way through a proclamation by Mayor Washington: This is Shakespeare Week in the Nation's Capital.
The sponsoring National Park Service need not have been so dilatory with the mayor's proclamation, for, on the level it has chosen for two summers now, our Shakespeare Summer Festival is not to be wholly scorned.
This is thanks to director Roger Meersman of the University of Maryland, who is knowing about available local, not-yet-professional talents and aware of what to do with the plays he has chosen. Last Year's "Romeo and Juliet" was spirited and romantic. This "Comedy" is spirited and broadly funny.
There are two especially able actors to play the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios, usually assigned to four players. Back on the lawn, where few were seated, it may have seemed like four, but in the 600-seat enclosure all must have been impressed by the two performers.
Encouraged by Meersman, Lanny Thomas, as the twin brothers of Ephesus and Syracuse, and Charles Clapsaddle, as the twin servants, have roistering, athletic style for their obvious astonishments and also manage to differentiate between their dual characters. Both are clever, assured performances. Thomas furthers the fine impression he made as Romeo.
Meersman also has had strong collaboration from designer C. H. Vaughan III, whose two-level stage on a manually operated turntable allows for the Thomas posturing and the Clapsaddle mime. Meersman has heightened their scenes with some ingenious devices and Arena's Marjorie Slaiman has supplied effective costumes for the long sight lines. The Sylvan's run follows a brief tour to four area national parks, and the players obviously are comfortable on the unique stage.
Aware that his production is addressed to audiences very likely seeing their first Shakespeare, Meersman cuts the play to 95 intermissionless minutes. The exposition must be used, but T. G. Finkbinder and Carter Reardon manage it with clarity which pays off later. After it, visual life sparks the speeches. The audience catches the spirit and relaxes into expressed pleasure.
Kitty Setton and Jan Behmen contrast nicely as the Ephesus wife and her startled sister, with Carolyn Swift Jones and Christi Warnick as the courtesan and Luce. While Jordan Thomas and Donald Slaiman have their helpful spots in the finale, it's the spirited performances of Thomas and Clapsaddle in their dual roles which spin this broad, farcical comedy.