Tuesday, December 2, 2014

OSF good fun: Cocoanuts and Comedy of Errors

The acting company at Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a supremely talented bunch. We continue to be amazed at how absolutely hilarious they can be. The laugh-meisters had ample opportunity to show their stuff this past season in two outstanding comedies: Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors and the Marx Brothers classic The Cocoanuts.

Brent Hinkley, John Tufts, and Mark Bedard as the Marx
Brothers in Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of The
. OSF photo by Jenny Graham.
The Cocoanuts was adapted by OSF's own Mark Bedard, from the original book by George S. Kaufman and music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Bedard even did some extensive sleuthing to turn up some original Berlin tunes that had long been separated from the stage script of the show.

The production, directed by David Ivers, was a reunion of the cast of the Marx's Animal Crackers staged at OSF in 2012, bringing back Bedard as Groucho, Brent Hinkley as Harpo, John Tufts as Chico, and K.T. Vogt as their Margaret Dumont-esque foil.

The show includes a couple of the brothers' best bits: the Why a Duck discussion between Groucho and Chico, and the wild, two-bedroom chase scene featuring the brothers, con-woman Penelope Martin (played by the also-hilarious Kate Mulligan), and the bumbling Detective Hennessey, portrayed by David Kelly, who may well be the most hysterical actor of the group. It has been nearly two months since we saw the show as I write this, and Kelly's rendition of the tune "The Tale of a Shirt" continues to work its way into my head. It is most welcome there.

David Kelly, center, as Detective Hennessey, who really wants
his shirt, with the rest of the cast of The Cocoanuts. OSF
photo by Jenny Graham.
While the story and characters are familiar, there was plenty of ad-libbing and playing off, and in, the audience, from which the brothers swiped a variety of personal items to use in their schtick. At the performance we attended they came away with some gaudy green sunglasses and some snacks. A festival insider tells us that at one performance they lifted a rather intimate toy from the handbag of a teenaged girl in the crowd, yet somehow resisted the urge to make her the butt of jokes.

If not for Water by the Spoonful, this production of The Cocoanuts would have been our choice for best-of-festival. hands down.

The other great comedy of the season was Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, directed by Kent Gash. Instead of Syracuse and Ephesus, the two sets of long-separated twins reside in Harlem and Louisiana at the time of the Harlem renaissance in the late 1920s.

Tobie Windham, left, as Antipholus, and
Rodney Gardiner as Dromio, in OSF's
Production of The Comedy of Errors. OSF
photo by Jenny Graham.
This production featured Rodney Gardiner, who played both Dromios, and Tobie Windham, who portrayed both Antipholuses. (Antipholi?) Tyrone Wilson was marvelous as Egeon, Bakesta King a delight as the Courtesan, and R.J. Foster cut an authoritative figure as Duke Solinus. All were delightful in romping through the twists and turns of mistaken identity, missing necklaces, purloined purses, and the like. Fitting to the era, the music of Harlem swing kept our toes tapping.

The one slight mis-step in The Comedy of Errors came at the end, with the big reveal that the two sets of twins had been reunited. As the same actors played both twins, and did an amazing job at somehow turning up immediately after an exit in a completely different corner of the theater, I'd wondered how Gash would pull this off. He simply introduced two more actors at the end, dressed the same as the other Dromio and Antipholus. I was hoping for something a bit more clever.

That said, this Comedy was also a lot of fun. It's good to mix in some laughs with some of the heavier plays in the festival.