Wil­liam meets the was­cally wab­bit at SIR

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Kevin Prokosh

ABUNNY up­staged the Bard as Ron Jenk­ins pre­pared to di­rect his first pro­fes­sional Shake­speare play next week. “For me it al­ways comes back to Bugs Bunny,” says the for­mer Win­nipeg­ger, re­turn­ing to helm The Com­edy of Er­rors for Shake­speare in the Ru­ins. “You go, ‘What would Bugs do?’” Jenk­ins, who lives in Ed­mon­ton but is still in de­mand here, waxes po­etic about the good old child­hood days when his favourite Satur­days in­volved watch­ing The Bugs Bunny Show and eat­ing spaghetti for sup­per be­fore plunk­ing him­self back in front of the tele­vi­sion for Hockey Night in Canada. Later, he dated a girl who pro­fessed that Daffy Duck was her favourite ac­tor. When it comes to pre­sent­ing com­edy on­stage, the car­rot Jenk­ins has chased be­longs to a cer­tain was­cally wab­bit. “With ev­ery play... you use things that have in­flu­enced you, like Bugs Bunny,” he says dur­ing an in­ter­view this week. “You will see those in­flu­ences in the play, in those cartoon chase se­quences.” Jenk­ins also has a fond­ness for Mer­chant-Ivory films like A Room With a View, The Re­mains of the Day as well as the mu­si­cal Les Misérables, so he chose to set The Com­edy of Er­rors in the 1830s. It was a time when so­ci­ety at­tempted to be civ­i­lized but ser­vants were still be­ing beaten. A fledg­ling play­wright from Strat­ford-upon-Avon wrote The Com­edy of Er­rors in 1594. He lifted the plot, the story of sep­a­rated twins, from Me­naechmi by Ro­man play­wright Plau­tus, who in turn had based it on a Greek story. The Bard goosed the plot by doubling down on the num­ber of iden­ti­cal twins — he had twins of his own — and ramp­ing up the stakes by adding a life that hangs in the bal­ance. So Shake­speare wrote about two sets of long-lost twins, with the same names to bump up the con­fu­sion and mis­taken iden­ti­ties. An­tipho­lus of Syracuse and An­tipho­lus of Eph­e­seus both have ser­vants named Dromio, who are also twins. They all end up in Eph­e­seus at the same time. Through­out Shake­speare’s short­est play, the Eph­e­sians — in­clud­ing An­tipho­lus of Eph­e­sus’s wife, Adri­ana — mis­take the two sets of broth­ers for each other. Mayhem, as they say, en­sues. The farce was an im­me­di­ate hit. The first per­for­mance took place Dec. 28, 1594 at the up­scale Grey’s Inn and ac­cord­ing to re­ports it was a hol­i­day hoot. Just about from that day on, play­wrights, TV scribes and screen­writ­ers have stolen, bor­rowed or re-pur­posed the plot for ev­ery­thing from the 1938 Rodgers and Hart mu­si­cal The Boys of Syracuse to the Hol­ly­wood movies Par­ent Trap and Twins. It is said you can’t do The Com­edy of Er­rors with­out hav­ing at least one pair of twin ac­tors. For Jenk­ins’ SIR de­but, he had to cast with­out even one, al­though his Syracuse- and Eph­e­seus­based An­tipho­luses look iden­ti­cal be­cause Win­nipeg ac­tor Toby Hughes por­trays them both. Jenk­ins opted to have Kevin Klassen por­tray Dromio of Syracuse and Tom Keenan play Dromio of Eph­e­seus. Pre­sent­ing a farce prom­e­nade style in the St. Nor­bert Trap­pist Monastery ru­ins de­mands some deft di­rect­ing, as it typ­i­cally re­quires lots of doors and char­ac­ters just miss­ing bump­ing into each other. “What Shake­speare wrote is ab­so­lutely hi­lar­i­ous; I just had to fig­ure out how to tell it at the ru­ins,” says Jenk­ins, the for­mer artis­tic di­rec­tor of Ed­mon­ton’s Work­shop West. “It’s been tricky mak­ing sure that the story is not lost in the mov­ing of the lawn chairs.” Hughes’ chal­lenge, mean­while, is mak­ing sure he plays the right char­ac­ter traits with each An­tipho­lus. One is a stranger who doesn’t know any­one in Eph­e­seus, while the other knows ev­ery­one. When it came to char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, it was sug­gested he think of Basil Fawlty, the neu­rotic hote­lier played by John Cleese on the 1970s BBC com­edy se­ries Fawlty Tow­ers. “Basil is very sure of him­self and sees him­self hold­ing a lot of author­ity and sta­tus, but is con­stantly be­ing un­der­mined by ev­ery­one around him,” says Hughes, whose re­search in­cluded a fix of Marx Broth­ers and Buster Keaton movies. “Dromio is very much Manuel,” he adds, re­fer­ring to Fawlty’s hap­less Span­ish bell­man. “An­tipho­lus is not a Bugs Bunny. He’s more Yosemite Sam, the one who is con­stantly be­ing sub­verted.” The Com­edy of Er­rors is not typ­i­cal Shake­speare. The po­etry is much less re­fined and there is no real sub­text. It’s all about giv­ing the au­di­ence a good time and that means a healthy serv­ing of raunch. “In the 1500s, fart jokes were just as pop­u­lar as they are now,” says Hughes, a SIR reg­u­lar who had a busy 2013-14 sea­son, in­clud­ing a star­ring role in The Val­ley at Prairie Theatre Ex­change. “A lot of Shake­speare’s com­edy was writ­ten for the groundlings, the people who would stand on the floor of the Globe Theatre. This is a play re­ally geared to puns and mis­un­der­stand­ings and base, sim­ple com­edy. “There are still beau­ti­ful speeches in the play. The two sis­ters, Adri­ana and Lu­ciana, have some great dis­cus­sions that hint at what Shake­speare will get to later in his ca­reer.”

ALLEN FRASER PHOTO

Shake­spearean shenani­gans: from left, Ro­drigo Beil­fuss, Toby Hughes, Rob McLaugh­lin and Kevin Klassen.

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