“The Comedy of Errors,” one of William Shakespeare’s earliest known works, is generally considered to be a rollicking farce filled with exuberant wordplay and slapstick antics of two sets of twin brothers, separated as infants, and reunited after a series of comic mishaps.
“But it’s also a story about a search for something lost,” said director Jennifer King. “We are all searching for something, even missing pieces of ourselves.”
The comedy, this year’s offering from Shakespeare Napa Valley, will be presented for four free performances in Veterans Memorial Park in Napa this coming weekend before moving inside to the studio theater at Napa Valley College.
King is directing this year’s production after spending two months in London, where she first staged the comedy with a British cast as part of the International Youth Arts Festival.
King had cast her Napa Valley College production before she left in June and kept in touch with them during her English sojourn.
“I was so inspired,” King said. “To work with these professionals at this level of training was wonderful for me. I just learned so much.”
“Seeing Shakespeare in London, seeing the integrity and dexterity of these actors, reinforced the importance of Shakespeare’s language. It gave me a bigger vision that I hadn’t had before.” King said she even found inspiration in the Maida Vale section of London where she was living, which bordered a Middle Eastern neighborhood, that mirrored the exotic setting of "The Comedy of Errors."
King said she sent regular updates to her students and as a result, “This (Napa) production has everything that I learned in London in it.
“When I came back, (the students) had done everything I asked them. They are just flying. It’s the best work we’ve ever done.”
“The Comedy of Errors” begins with the plight of the Syracuse merchant, Egeon, who is arrested in Epheseus, where merchants from Syracuse are forbidden to enter. To the ruling duke he recounts his sad story, of how, during a storm at sea, his wife, one twin son and one of twin servants were rescued by one boat, while he, one son and one servant were saved by another. They never saw each other again, but, his son and the servant, now grown, had set out to find their missing brothers. When they did not return, Egeon had set out in search of them.
What Egeon does not know is that both of his sons, their servants and his missing wife are all in Epheseus, but before he figures this out, a wild series of mishaps unfolds, based on a confusion of identities.
“It’s a perfect introduction to Shakespeare for kids,” King said. With all the laughs and action, she said, “it’s just built for kids.”
Shakespeare Napa Valley, while operating under the auspices of the college, launched its free performances in Veterans Memorial Park in 2010, drawing huge crowds to watch the shows.
Last year, when severe budget cuts in state funding for community colleges threatened to shut down the park performances, the public provided donations, along with grants from the Visit Napa Valley, to keep the shows going.
The enthusiasm of Napa residents was gratifying, King said, but this year, she wants to stage the show inside at the college as well. “I want to reconnect with our students,” said King, who noted that the indoor shows will be taking place as the academic year begins. “But we will always be downtown too.”