To the relief and joy of the Folger Theater Group's wellwishers, and the benefit of theatergoers, the last production of the season, "The Comedy of Errors," is a triumph.
This production, the first to be directed by John Neville-Andrews since he became the theater's artistic producer, does what the Folger does best. The verve with which the Folger is able to brush off the accumulation of the centuries and render the comedies truly and freshly comic makes it invaluable.
If it seemed a dangerous idea to put "The Comedy of Errors" into Twenties costumes in a Middle Eastern watering-hole setting, so that it looks like one of the Agatha Christie exotics -- well, it works. Besides, everyone has always taken liberties with this play, including Shakespeare himself, who adapted it from Plautus, who had an older Greek source, going back to even older myths about mix-ups of twins.
This production is a successful mixture of the silly and the sophisticated. In a posh hotel, whose opulence is marvelously sketched by Lewis Folden into the limitations of the Folger's stage, various natives steal and fence watches, flip dirty pictures and shush one another in the expression of their wildest emotions in order not to disturb the paying clientele. A police officer in green plumed helmet and mirrored sunglasses shows his deference to an impervious shiek by viciously swatting flies that land on the lordly body. An ingenue whose spectacles have been lovingly removed by her suitor feels frantically for them while walking into fountains and furniture.
The amusing elegance of Bary Allen Odom's costumes, and the actors' appropriate demeanor in them, keep the tone of the farce smooth and subtle. The twins from Syracuse (David Cromwell as Antipholus and Stephen Mottram as Dromio) have a winning innocence under their debonair airs that is in delightful contrast to the wiliness suggested by the pair (Gregory Roberts as that Antipholus and Lance Davis as the other Dromio) brought up in Ephesus.
Ralph Cosham, as the dour father who keeps boring everyone by worrying about his impending execution; Diana Van Fossen and Cecelia Riddett, as the smoldering wife and her prissy sister; and Timothy Rice, who seems to be playing the Duke as Robert Benchley, are among the contributors to this consistently zany scene. THE COMEDY OF ERRORS -- Through July 11 at the Folger.