Debauchery! Bad accents! Siblings lost and found! Two summer entries invite you to travel to exotic realms, where you will slither through curtains of beads or be tickled with pastel plumes. In the Aquila Theatre Company’s The Comedy of Errors, you will be lured into a Turkish bordello, where comely belly dancers bump and grind before you. In Toda Con Nada’s Der Ring Gott Farblonjet, Charles Ludlam’s 1977 spoof of Wagner’s Ring cycle, you are led from garish pool room to tawdry pole-dancing space through a maze of other areas in the former porno palace Show World. The Shakespeare will keep you laughing as one set of hijinks somersaults onto the heels of the next. The Ridiculous’s old chestnut, though, might coax an amused smile from you, but the play’s sheer volume and ultimate tedium will wear it away.
Director Robert Richmond’s vision for this Comedy of Errors is a 1920s Turkish cartoon dream. With David Coleman and Owen Collins’s colorfully draped set pierced by Peter Meineck’s iridescent lighting, the world Richmond creates dances to a snake charmer’s music: Even the bazaar tents wriggle to its sensuous strains. The prologue sets the tone—Egeon describes the loss of one-half of his set of twin sons and their twin servants, in a slapstick pantomime complete with baby dolls and a mimed trek atop a camel.
When the lost Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse arrive in Ephesus, we are treated to a pair of Brits in specs—gentleman and servant—who project a prim fuddy-duddy-ness. Their upper-class manners are set against their opposite twins’ vulgar, cockney swagger. Likewise, their romantic interests match up in style. Adriana, wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, is hearty and voluptuous, while her sister, Luciana, in specs like her lover-to-be, is a meek spinster with simmering libido.
Richmond conducts his combinedAmerican-British ensemble like a precision brass band. In one comic crescendo, the bespectacled Antipholus and Luciana join in a tempestuous dance that might be called “The Librarians’ Tango.” The entire cast sparkles, but the real standouts are David Caron as the ever-so-proper Antipholus (of Syracuse); Louis Butelli as the rubber-limbed, jack-of-all-accents Dromio (of Ephesus); and Mira Kingsley’s Luciana. Throughout, Shakespeare’s jokes burst fresh and funny, the tomfoolery speeding along from one sidesplitting episode to another until the wonderful—and surprising—finale.
Alas, Charles Ludlam’s grand farce, Der Ring Gott Farblonjet, feels a bit dusty. How much of this is due to the play and how much to the production is hard to say. Much of Ludlam’s daring seems pretty tame now, his social commentary dated. Yet there are glimmers of hilarity in Tim Cusack’s staging, which suggest that in the hands of those with the sublime effrontery of the original Ridiculous company Der Ring could still be a lot of fun.
No matter what, it’s hard to be funny for two hours and 40 minutes. The plot summaries of Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung fill up almost 10 single-spaced pages. And much of the goofy mock-German and campy soap operatics are just walked through by Nada’s large cast.
Despite all, there are zesty highlights in this production, part of Nada’s “Riduc-Fest.” In the prologue, the Rheinmaidens—Tim Cusack, Billie James, and Kelly Owen—strut a vulgar erotic number in briefs and glittery flowered housecoats to the Rheingold beer jingle. Jerry Marsini’s Fricka, tall and ever-so-eyelashed in spike heels, pink chiffon, and plumes, has the kind of outrageous drag confidence that’s needed throughout. He’s also a stitch pedaling in on a bicycle, clad in silver lamé. Xavier Smith and Billie James also sizzle hysterically as Sieglinda and Siegmund, the sister and brother who reunite in a puddle of incestuous love. There’s also a chorus of the Walküres—or “dyke bikers”—dressed in T-shirts and jeans, metal helmets atop their blond braided heads.
Episodes like these make you wish for more music, more edge, more . . . well, just more. As you are led—by a guide carrying a gold-painted styrofoam ball—from one sublimely tacky room to another in Show World, you can’t help but wish the play were as much fun as its deliciously seamy stage set.