The Comedy of Errors

Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

March, 2012

Lenny Wolpe, Jack Forbes Wilson

“The giddy conspirators behind the production at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, director Paul Mason Barnes and musical director Jack Forbes Wilson. . . treat us to a joyous musical prologue that sets the time (Mardi Gras, 1936), the place (New Orleans, marginally disguised as Ephesus), and the mood (inspired nonsense).  Evoking just about everything in Shakespeare’s canon, Wilson and the big happy ensemble deliver a version of Dr. John’s “Going Back to New Orleans” that Wilson has outfitted with new lyrics to match the seductive jazz line.  At his piano on the upper level of Erik Paulson’s evocative wrought-iron set, Wilson turns into a kind of jazz angel, blessing the production with musical cloudbursts and sunshine.

“In that environment, Barnes lets the actors loose on a story so utterly silly that it leave them plenty of room.  Each principal character gets a moment to shine.  As the twin businessmen and their twin servants, Chris Mixon, Michael Fitzpatrick, Doug Scholz-Carlson and Christopher Gerson engage in bouts of stage fighting that Barnes has choreographed with such imagination, we can practically feel the blows – even though no one is actually struck.

“They make a shining quartet, and the women are just as bright.  As a wife who doesn’t know that her husband has an identical twin, let alone that he’s in town, Tarah Flanagan is simply terrific.  A few years ago, Flanagan starred in Barnes’ “Saint Joan” at the Rep, one of its best productions.  This time, they join forces to channel the comic shade of Blanche DuBois, culminating in a long, hysterical, astonishingly accurate speech in which the poor woman strives to explain her confusion.  It’s a tour de force.”

    Judith Newmark

    St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Anyone who reads my reviews regularly knows that I’m a fan of Shakespearean re-imaginings.  Sure, I like my Shakespeare played straight as well, but sometimes when one of his plays is tinkered with in just the right fashion it comes to life in new and unexpectedly exciting ways.  Such is the case with the Rep’s slapstick take on The Comedy of Errors, which is given the background of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and given a Heavy Dose of 1930’s period music to liven things up considerably.  It’s a brilliant take and leaves the Rep with a perfect batting average for the season.

“Director Paul Mason Barnes pulls out all the stops for this production, inserting a bevy of musical interludes, as well as incorporating some hilarious bits that add a great deal of merriment to the proceedings.  The Rep’s production of The Comedy of Errors is another in a long line of must-see shows that they’ve presented this season.  It’s certainly one of the best adaptations of this particular work that I’ve ever seen.”

    Chris Gibson

“Director Paul Mason Barnes has set the story in ‘Ephesus, a small town just outside New Orleans’ during a Mardi Gras in the mid-1900s, given it a brightly colored coat of bluesy-gospelly music, and pulled every last bit of physical comedy out of the script and the setting, creating a high-volume, high-energy romp that leaves that cast looking tickled to death and the audience on their feet.

“. . . the whirlwind of physical comedy has so engulfed the proceedings that from that point on the show is one delightful scene after another, with a lot of visual wit and some pretty nifty musical jokes to go along with the slapstick.

“This has been a year of great sets at the Rep, and Erik Paulson’s stylized New Orleans street corner, with its acres of beautiful ‘iron work’ and nifty faux cobblestones, is among the best of them.  The costumes by Margaret E. Weedon are sumptuous, and the lighting by Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz is clever and effective.  This is the first appearance at the Rep for this technical team, and we hope they will be back often in the future.”

    Robert Boyd

    Talkin’ Broadway

“So you’re directing a script by a young playwright who obviously has a feel for what works on stage, for how to build a scene, how to set things up for physical comedy.  

“The play is The Comedy of Errors.  The playwright is William Shakespeare.  Trust me, if this play didn’t have his name on it, you’d never see it on a stage today.

“What director Paul Mason Barnes has done at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is to take this text and use it, as intended, as a basis for lots of very funny, precisely performed physical comedy.  Three Stooges, meet William Shakespeare.”

    Bob Wilcox


“So, another Rep season comes to an end, and The Comedy of Errors takes it out with a bang and, appropriately, a party.

“Laissez bon temps rouler!, the traditional Mardi Gras “Let’s Party!” call , is being used by the Rep to promote The Comedy of Errors, and having seen it, now I know why.  The eternally time-traveling Shakespeare has now been dropped in 1936 New Orleans, and the good times do, indeed, roll, Chere.

“Paul Mason Barnes directs in such a way that the proceedings look at once timed with military precision but also just thrown up against the wall to see what stuck. (That’s a compliment.) “

    Andrea Braun

    Playback STL and The Vital Voice

“Paul Mason Barnes’ Mardi Gras-tined version of The Comedy of Errors opens with a big, brassy musical introduction to all the characters that’s five minutes of pure bliss.  

“Director Barnes runs his cast mercilessly in this Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production, particularly the Dromios, who never walk when they can sprint from one scene to the next.  The synchronized choreography enhances the confusion as to who’s who. . .  but that’s part of the fun.”

    Paul Friswold

    The Riverfront Times

“What to do with a lightweight affair that may have been the first play that William Shakespeare ever wrote?  Wile purists and theater artists may savor every word that The Bard put on paper, many of us are easily bored by the repetitive nature of Will’s humor when it comes to identical twins, mistaken identities and the misadventures and misinterpretations that may arise from such plot devices.

“Never fear.  Intrepid director Paul Mason Barnes has concocted a clever conceit in which The Comedy of Errors is set “near” New Orleans at Mardi Gras, circa 1936.  This actually works extremely well, as the goofy shenanigans, slapstick and pratfalls so prevalent in many of Will’s comedies at least are easier to accept with such a magical, enchanted, and fun-loving background.  Barnes’ inspiration also allows for delightful use of the glorious musical sounds of the Big Easy, from stirring gospel numbers to Dixieland jazz to amusing take-offs on sundry Southern comforts as diverse as Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and even great impostors such as The Animals.  Blend those intoxicating musical melodies with the precise movements of Barnes’ expert cast, and quicker than you can say Witchy Woman, the Rep’s rousing rendition of The Comedy of Errors proves to be substantially more entertaining than the play itself.

“The cast is uniformly splendid, energetic and generous to each other, allowing for a democratic convergence of talent and effort for the benefit of all.

“Confused by The Bard’s Elizabethan humor?  Worry not as you ride this City of New Orleans to its dazzling destination.”

    Mark Bretz

    The Ladue News


What I learned. . .

Getting to work on our 1936, New Orleans-at-Mardi-Gras version of The Comedy of Errors a second time was a treat.  About half of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis cast was comprised of actors transplanted from the Great River Shakespeare Festival 2010 season production; the other half were new – some from New York City; an equal number from St. Louis, with six students from the Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts tossed in for good measure.  One of these students, Eric Thomas Morris, turned out to be an accomplished trumpet player; working with Jack Forbes Wilson, our musical director-arranger, Eric’s contribution to the sound and setting of the Rep’s production was invaluable.

One of the challenges of revisiting the production was adapting the design and the action to a deeper and truer thrust stage than GRSF’s in Winona and making sure the physical comedy could play to all sides of the house with equal clarity and impact. Mostly though, the opportunity to revisit Comedy made it possible to explore both the farcical elements of the play as well as its deeper themes of loss, redemption, and reconciliation.  

St. Louis audiences had as rousing a good time as did our “home town” Winona fans and loyalists, though they might not have been as accustomed to what’s become a sort of ‘house style’ at GRSF – this mix of music and contemporary flourishes (while maintaining fidelity to the text and to Shakespeare’s story – of course!).  The ‘warm-up’ to the mayhem took a little more time than in Winona, but that only challenged us to not push for results or to telegraph that this was supposed to be a rollicking experience.  There’s still a tender story at the heart of Comedy, and as much as I wanted audiences to let loose and have a really good time, I also wanted them to be moved by the series of recognitions and reunions that occur at the end of the play.  I think we succeeded on all fronts.

That success was made possible in no small way thanks to the staff of the Rep and the trust they placed in me, Jack Forbes Wilson, the GRSF actors, and our design team: Erik Paulson, Meg Weedon, and Lonnie Alcaraz.  It was a blast to get to bring the ‘home team’ to St. Louis, and to feel so welcome and so appreciated.