Arts & Events

New: Theater Review: 'A Hot Day in Ephesus' at Actos Ensemble of Berkeley

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday May 01, 2012 - 12:07:00 PM

On a gorgeously painted set of a Mediterranean town of Antiquity (Lili Smith's design, Steve Coleman's artistry) resembling the constructions of the early Italian stage, Actors Ensemble of Berkeley assembles their cast of 15 to celebrate longtime AE player Vicki Siegel's musical version of The Bard's 'Comedy of Errors' (and Plautus' 'Menaechmi'), 'A Hot Day in Ephesus,' after a few years as a work-in-progress, an earlier workshop version done outdoors in Mill Valley three years ago; the band of four musicians onstage hails from that show. 

The mix-up of twins constantly mistaken for each other is doubled down in this story: two sets of twins, long separated, coincide again, unintentionally, in Ephesus—and the town almost proves "not big enough for the two—or four—of us," as Antipholus and his manservant Dromio literally meet their match on a visit from Siracusa (Rodgers & Hart's musical, 'The Boys from Syracuse,' is fashioned of the same source material), mistaken for ... Antipholus and Dromio, a local householder and his valet. 

As the two Dromios, Jai Sahai (the visitor) and Elmer Strasser (the local) keep the story moving with the energy of their puzzlement, sometimes anger, at the mistaken identities and various mishaps ascribed always to the wrong guy. Their servants, Dromio and Dromio (Bryan Quinn and Jonathan Trinh), share in the pleasure/pain principle, chased amorously or in rage at what their unknown counterpart has said or done. Jai and Bryan in particular team up for some moments of slapstick, of which this play's always on the brink. 

Mistaken identities and pratfalls aside, there's the music and songs, written by Vicki herself, some in collaboration with Cameron Clark, Brian Hansen and bandleader Don Clark. Including a reprise or two, there's nearly 20 numbers ranging throughout the show, a veritable stream of song—including "Fit In" and "Don't Want to Fit In," as well as a tango number, "You Don't Care About Me"—with dances choreographed by Laura Wesslund. Evan Alperone is musical director; Don Clark leads the band onstage: Michelle Delattre (artistic director of Curtain Theatre, which put on the Mill Valley workshop version), Alice Montgomery, and the ubiquitous Hal Hughes, who puts down his fiddle at one point to convey a piece of news to the throng downstage. 

The love interest—if there's mistaken identities, there must be a love story—revolves around homeboy Antipholus' wife Adriana (Alexandra Holzman) and her sister Luciana (Jamie Harkin), who Antipholus the tourist is smtten by, not being able to figure why it's such a bad thing, mistaken as her brother-in-law. 

The chorus of assorted townsfolk, Ephesians all, swirls in and out of the action as it goes slamming door-to-door or takes center stage, or chases in and out of the wings. Jody Christian, always a delight in comedic productions, is a M erchant, as are Asali Echols and Peggy De Coursey and Jenny Brick, Jenny doubling as the Abbess for her best moments onstage. Meira Perelstein plays the Goldsmith, Carina Salazar vamps it up as a Courtesan in a semi-Aretha strut with the chorus, Garret Wilson plays the stolid Officer, Stefin Collins the be-derby'd Duke and Don Hardwick the hapless Aegeon, a stranger slated for execution at the start, whose past provides the cue for the obligatory recognition scene to ravel up the plot. 

The production team's helmed by Bruce Coughran as director and Jerome Solberg, producer. Chelsea Camp did the lighting and Helen Slomowitz worked her usual wonders with the bevy of costumes this bunch is constantly changing into. There's a dramaturg, too, something unusual in community theater, Chelsea Camp. 

If mistaken identity's the motor of the play, the author, director, cast, band and designers have seasoned it with tongue-in-cheek anachronism, updating The Bard's stretch of Antiquity to Elizabethan to bring it up to the flavors of the 21st century added to what savors of the past. The company enjoys itself immensely, the soul of community theater, and that can be contagious. 

'A Hot Day in Ephesus,' Friday & Saturday at 8, through May 19 (Sunday, May 13 at 2) at Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck (just past the Gourmet Ghetto in Live Oak Park), $12-$15, 841-5580;