July means two things in Ottawa…intermittent rain, and Shakespeare in the Park! Okay, and Bluesfest, but what am I, a dirty hippie? Nay, I am in dire need of some proper cultural refinement this summer, and my first bit of theatre in the great outdoors was just the ticket. I had a plan for my post-drudgery evening, but an emergency trip back to my place across town necessitated a change of scheduling. So instead of catching the Company of Fools show in the Glebe (soon guys, soon!), it was off to Iona Park in Westboro to check out what relative newcomers Bear and Company had cooked up for their out-of-doors extravaganza.
The Bear gang has picked THE COMEDY OF ERRORS for the summertime fun, featuring many faces familiar to their fans, and directed by company member Anna Lewis. Transplanting Zombie Bill’s farcical classic quite successfully into an old west setting, the action is set in the round, and we lucked out with great weather for the show. We begin as the town Mayor (Will Somers) is bringing in a defeated looking old fella named Egeon (Tim Oberholzer, in one of several splendid characters guises) who has been sentenced to death for debt, or being a foreigner or something. At any rate, he unfolds his tale of woe to the Mayor, explaining how he and his wife had just become parents to identical twins 33 years ago, and then immediately adopted ANOTHER pair of identical twins (don’t ask), only to lose track of one another in a shipwreck. Egeon and his split set of twins, Antipholus (Michelle LeBlanc) and Dromio (David Benedict Brown) are now scouring the west looking for their other relations. Unbeknownst to them, Shakespeare stacked the coincidence deck by having the other Antipholus (Michelle LeBlanc again) and other Dromio (David Whiteley) living comfortably in the very town they now all found themselves in.
Naturally, some identity-confused merriment ensues, as the visiting Antipholus runs afoul of the other Dromio, and gets unexpectedly wooed by his brother’s wife (Alexis Scott), even if he only has eyes for her sister (Rachel Eugster). Along the way there’s some very hummable singing courtesy of Bear and Co’s ace musical director Rachel Eugster, lots of rope swinging and knock-down brawling, and even a proper Shakespearean farting contest (I mentioned the cultural refinement, right?). This is a terribly fun piece of theatre in the great outdoors, with as good an ensemble cast as you would ever need. David Benedict Brown and David Whiteley as the twin Dromios are comic gold, ever beaten down and bemoaning their fates. Alexis Scott got some spontaneous applause from the audience on my night while delivering one of Adriana’s more impassioned speeches towards the visiting Antipholus, and for my money she earned it…Rachel Eugster likewise made a vivacious Luciana. Will Somers, Anna Lewis and Leslie Cserepy (trading off the odd show with Brie Barker) round out the killer cast, pitching in as various nitwit sheriffs, washing women and uppity nuns. But the bulk of the show rests on Michelle LeBlanc’s capable shoulders, and she delivers like nobody’s business, managing to convincingly play two versions of Antipholus (complete with ever-so-slightly different country accents and swagger) and deliver the requisite mountain of dialogue, baffling amount of exits and re-entrances, plus the occasional rope trick, and lookin’ good doing it. Once again, Miz LeBlanc reminds us why she’s one of the best in Ottawa.
As a big CALAMITY JANE fan, I was all looking forward to this western spin on Billy Shakes, and the gang did not disappoint. Bear and Company’s take on the Shakespeare in the Park gig is proving to be a very fun one, and I’d advise you to check their website for when their show moseys your way…personally, I have every intention of returning with my nieces when they hit Kanata and I’d love to see ya there. Peace, love and soul, y’all,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)