“Holiday of Errors” by Frank Lawler and Daniel Flint is a hilarious, fresh and intelligent mash-up of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and “Richard III” mixed in with desperate doses of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. An accomplished cast, led by Teresa Thuman’s excellent direction, delivers an entertainment that will delight audiences that know a great deal about the Bard and his works and, perhaps, will be even more pleasing to those who have never understood Shakespeare at all. Because these writers are obviously so well-versed in the canon, they are able to effortlessly stir in large dollops of inside jokes and literary transmutations with easy, cheesy comic action. Best of all, none of this seems forced or over-studied, but more like one of those days when you’ve studied desperately for an exam and realize, just before starting the test, that you can’t exactly remember which book which characters were in, or what happened, or why. Time to get really inventive.
The play begins with Shakespeare at his desk on a lonely night in 1593, dashing off one idea after another that is not quite right, desperately trying to get something down for a performance to be performed before the lusty and supercilious Queen Elizabeth on Twelfth Night. As if that were not enough pressure, there is also a movement to close all the theaters in London, and if this show flops there is a high likelihood that the Master will have to retire to his unhappy life in the country. And there are other things going on, including a somewhat helpful visit from the probable ghost of Marlowe, an actor in his troop who is actually a woman (invasion from “Shakespeare in Love”) spirits from the past, present and future, and several players from both inside and outside the court who want to get intimate with her randy Majesty in order to advance their own personal agendas. The play is, perhaps, extended a bit beyond its natural ending, but the action is so fast-paced and interesting that it never seems to lag, and the production maintains a perfect grasp on tone, well-realized characterizations and a general sense of invention that makes all of this borrowed, blasphemed writing feel like improvisation.
As the Bard of Avon, Frank Lawler played Will as a man who never seemed too full of himself, decidedly human-scaled, allowing his greatness to appear more like a costume than a conceit. In one of the more subtle balances of this performance, all of the characters who came from his imagination seemed more vivid and interesting than he himself did. Best of all, Lawler created a Shakespeare who was intuitively connected with the inner-lives and thought processes of the great and powerful. Not hard to believe that this man created characters whom he understood better than they understood themselves.
While this whole ensemble was excellent, I thought Elinor Gunn as Elizabeth was a sheer delight, a woman whose passions for the flesh were greater than her passion for power. She also reveled in a Queen who felt perfectly at ease with her presumed greatness. At the other end of that scale was Matt Fulbright, as Shakespeare’s greatest actor, Richard Burbage (or Dick in this show). Fulbright was always that blank slate on which character could be drawn, and there was never any sense of ego or grandiosity in the actor himself. Similarly, Marianna de Fazio was excellent as the young actor known as Charlie, whom the Queen finds irresistible and who must make her way through the male costumes and identity to her actual person. Daniel Stoltenbergdid a great job of keeping the scandalous Marlowe controlled and still outrageous, and his performance was a perfect example of the careful control of tone throughout the production. Even with the perfectly ridiculous Eddie de Vere, played by Luke S. Walker, it was always clear that this comic fool was just as preposterous to everyone else on stage as he was to us. Terry Boyd, Justin Lynn and Damien Charboneau filled in the rest of the characters with an equal amount of control and comedic accent.
Beautifully mounted with set and lighting design by Richard Schaefer and splendid costumes byJustine Wright, just about everything in this production was done right. Even the very funny Christmas carols, with re-written lyrics to fit the show, managed to feel natural and not forced. The music was handled by Jesse Smith. Above all, though, the coherence and consistency of this silly, delightful romp has to be credited to Teresa Thuman.
“Holiday of Errors, or Much Ado About Stockings” was, for me, the best theatrical surprise so far this Christmas season. I don’t think non-theater people can really appreciate how difficult it is to pull off this kind of parody, but you don’t need much theatrical education to find yourself laughing loudly and frequently at this funny, funny show.
Pictured: Frank Lawler and Matt Fulbright
PHOTO BY: Ken Holmes
Written by: Jerry Kraft
Added: December 12th 2013
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