What happens when Antipholus meets Antipholus and Dromio meets Dromio?
The pairs look alike, so it must mean that these are sets of twins, correct?
That is exactly the case. In William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” a Syracusan man and his servant run into their twin brothers in the Greek city of Ephesus. When friends and families of the twins in Ephesus mistake them for the Syracuse pair, a series of wild mishaps lead to all manner of dubious outcomes – including unjust beatings, near-seduction and arrests.
The Shakespearean comedy will play out on stage this September at the Cal Poly Pomona Studio Theatre, courtesy of The Southern California Shakespeare Festival (SCSF) – a program run by Cal Poly Pomona Department of Theatre and New Dance faculty member Linda Bisesti.
Bisesti, the festival’s founder and artistic director, says that for its 13th season, SCSF will be making some modern adjustments to one of the Bard’s earliest works that will put a fresh coat of paint on a play more than 400 years old.
Taking an already bizarre story over the top, the city of Ephesus becomes Venice Beach and Syracuse changed to San Diego. The carnival-like nature of Venice Beach will be played up with a pre-show performance of circus acts that will bleed into the main performance.
Bisesti said much of the play’s reimagining stems from director Sam Robinson, who will also invert genders of the characters to place women in men’s positions, and vice versa. Antipholus becomes Anna-Maria, and Dromio becomes Darian.
“The roles are gender-bended, so the husband and wife’s roles get reexamined in terms of gendering,” Bisesti says. “Part of my belief is that Shakespeare is gender-blind and colorblind. The Elizabethans did Shakespeare with all men, and now it’s time to do it with all sorts of different people and changing their roles.”
Under the umbrella of the Cal Poly Pomona Department of Theatre and New Dance, Bisesti says part of SCSF’s main goal is to provide students an opportunity to perform and work with Shakespeare’s plays.
This season’s performance includes a cast and crew of nearly 30 current Cal Poly Pomona students and alumni. Bisesti says it’s important for young actors to get a handle on Shakespeare, and helping them accomplish that was one reason why she founded SCSF in 2004.
“You really can’t train actors without good classical work, so I’m committed to providing them with that as the artistic director,” Bisesti says. “Language is one of the most important things you can train young actors in, and the really wonderful actors have all been trained in language and they know how to do Shakespeare.”
Teaching students to understand Shakespeare is no small labor, either.
“The language is 450 years old, so you have to make the actors walk up to it and you can’t dumb it down,” Bisesti says. “Actors have to actually understand the form of rhetoric Shakespeare is using, and it’s their job to persuade the viewer to the point of view of the character.”
Cal Poly Pomona theatre student Kaitlyn Tice played Petruchio in the Department of Theatre and New Dance’s 2016 production of “Taming of the Shrew,” but will perform during “The Comedy of Errors” preshow and handle things more on the production side of SCSF this season.
“One of the reasons I decided to come to Cal Poly Pomona is because of the Southern California Shakespeare Festival,” she says. “I’m a huge proponent of Shakespeare, and I think this production of ‘Comedy of Errors’ is an interesting take on how well you really know your partners and know yourself.”
Cara Vilencia, who will play the courtesan in this season’s production, says she feels the modern edits that Robinson and Bisesti are making to “The Comedy of Errors” will appeal to a wider variety of attendees.
“I think it’s cool we’re doing something more modern because it will help bring in a current audience to see what we’re doing on stage,” she says, “and it helps them understand what’s going on because a lot of people don’t speak Shakespearean language.”
All in all, Bisesti says people should consider seeing “The Comedy of Errors” if they appreciate Shakespeare and a hearty laugh.
“It’s a fun, frivolous and ridiculous comedy about mistaken identity, people who behave badly and get caught,” she says. “It’s somewhat farcical and probably more so than other Shakespeare plays, so I think that element in and of itself will be celebrated in this production.”
“The Comedy of Errors” opens at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7 at the Cal Poly Pomona Studio Theatre. The production continues its run at Cal Poly Pomona at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 23, 29, 30 and Oct. 6-7. Matinee shows are at 2 p.m. on Sept. 24, Oct. 1 and 8.
SCSF will also perform the play at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 9 at the School of Arts and Enterprise in Downtown Pomona.
Tickets are $20 general admission and $15 for students, staff and senior citizens.
For more information about performances or tickets, visit www.classcsupomona.tix.com.