The Comedy and Tragedy of Shakespeare Shorts Festival 2019

By Stephanie Osborne

To give William Shakespeare a belated birthday bash, UCI Drama and UCI Illuminations put together multiple, free showings of two shortened productions, “Comedy of Errors” and “Romeo and Juliet.” From May 2 to May 4, The Shakespeare Shorts Festival took the stage at the plaza of the Intercollegiate Athletics Buildings. “Comedy of Errors” and “Romeo and Juliet” featured two completely different ensemble casts, both playing off of their co-stars’ energy with great chemistry.

Comedy of Errors” is about two twins called Antipholus, one of Ephesus and the other Syracuse — played by Keir Aitken and Essa Rasheed — who were separated in early childhood, but prior to reuniting, have a case of mistaken identity. Along with their twin courtiers named Dromio, played by Andrew Landeros and Brody Rodgers, the twins wreak havoc across the town and place the others in jail. While both sets of twins looked nothing alike, the illusion was well kept through the acting, body language, and costumes. The parents of the twins, Aegeon and Aemelia, played by Megan Robinson and Sarajane Bradford, had great chemistry with each other and each kept their various roles distinct. Their roles as the parents normalized same-sex couples having children, and director Joshua M. Feder did not make their relationship a big commotion, rather just something that is.

One of the funniest of Shakespeare’s comedies, “Comedy of Errorsis among the earliest plays to feature slapstick comedy, such as chase scenes, obviously fake violence, and over the top reactions from the actors. The audience was kept laughing through the entire play. Even if someone did not know the meaning of the whole line, the body language and physical comedy translated the meaning. To keep up with the constant change of scenery, the actors themselves would rearrange the cartoonish set designs with background music, staying in character while doing so.

Romeo and Juliet” is the most well-known Shakespeare play, but with that, it is also the most overdone play. However, it does draw people who are unfamiliar with other Shakespearean works into the event. Most of the cast of “Romeo and Juliet” was female, so director Sara Rodriguez made the creative choice to change pronouns in the play to reflect the actors’ genders. Most of the time it did not feel forced, flowing well with the iambic pentameter.  Because titular characters Romeo and Juliet were played by Kyrra Thiel and Audrey Napoli, respectively, a same-sex relationship was the center of a Shakespeare stage, similar to “Comedy of Errors.” Both plays normalized same-sex marriage, but “Romeo and Juliet” also normalized physical affection, such as kissing and implied sex.

However, in “Romeo and Juliet,” scenes and monologues were cut out in order to make it a “Shakespeare Short”. Firstly, the prologue was cut, jumping straight to Act I, Scene I. The prologue sets up the air of hostility between the Capulets and Montagues, providing the important background information to the audience before the play starts. The scenes that were cut out were crucial to the characterization of Mercutio, played by Kerry Vang, and Tybalt, played by Victoria Gusciora. Many Shakespeare fans love both of these characters, but without their key monologues and scenes, no one cared when they died on stage. Tybalt’s rampage of revenge is lightened and Mercutio’s “a plague on both your houses” line was watered down in this instance.

Even in 2019, Shakespeare’s plays, comedies and dramas alike, are relevant sources of entertainment. The nights of the Shakespeare Shorts Festival were full of laughs, gasps, and twists. Both plays were adapted to include same sex relationships, reflecting the contemporary atmosphere of their productions. The Shakespeare Shorts Festival kicks of UCI’s summer of Shakespeare events, featuring “The Merchant of Venice” and “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the New Swan Theater during Shakespeare Weekend in August, with more brought to campus by UCI Shakespeare Center, UCI Drama, and UCI Illuminations.

image from http://scottishritetheater.org/show/comedy-of-errors/