Fidel Gomez and Mark Murphey in La Comedia/OSFphoto by Jenny Graham

Shakespeare Goes Telenovela

OSF’s La Comedia of Errors plays with language and borders

The night before I traveled to Ashland for La Comedia of Errors, I finished watching the series finale episode of Jane the Virgin, a self-aware bilingual telenovela that aired on the American network CW. 

I never thought of William Shakespeare’s plays in the same manner as a telenovela, but, with Jane the Virgin fresh in my mind, I could see some commonly used telenovela elements in the bilingual adaptation of Comedy of Errors: lost twins, mistaken identity, slapstick and romance. 

And, in one of the many instances of the play breaking the fourth wall with her wit and reason, La Vecina (Meme García) confirmed my suspicions when she yelled out from the audience that this was her “telenovela favorita.” 

La Comedia of Errors doesn’t really need much adaptation from Shakespeare’s original, because humans aren’t great changing their behavior. Rather than facing execution for trespassing due to a ban on Syracusians, an undocumented immigrant looking for his twins lost at birth in a plane crash (Drómio/Dromio and Antífolo/Antipholus) must come up with $100,000 bail or face deportation. 

La Comedia of Errors is the final show directed by Bill Rauch and the first “truly” bilingual work produced at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Hopefully it’s the not the last one. Although a typical OSF audience is probably monolingual and therefore missing some jokes in Spanish in this play, the presence of an unfamiliar language shouldn’t be a reason to skip La Comedia. Instead, monolingual theatergoers (myself included since I was relying on rusty college-level Spanish) should be driven to hit the books to learn another language.

The production, designed by Christopher Acebo, is stripped down because the play tours throughout the Rogue Valley. For the most part, the set consists of a doorway, a couple of stools, a guitarist and sound effects run by whoever’s not in the scene at the time. 

Because of the play’s bare-bones set, it felt at times like improv. However, a plain stage does cast aside some of the pretensions found in the theater world, so the audience channeled a vaudevillian spirit, hissing at the mention of ICE.

Since the cast is small, Antífolo (Fidel Gomez) and Dromío (Tony Sancho) also portray their respective identical twins. The result is the audience must exercise a strong suspension of disbelief is required at times. They pull it off, though. 

Sancho’s physical comedy proves he’s a master of slapstick violence as his superior beats him — whether it’s from the hand of Antífolo or Antipholus. As the straight man to Sancho’s wild slapstick, Gomez demonstrates the grasp of a confused immigrant to the arrogant, English-only American effortlessly. 

García, who yells out comments during the play, is more like an excited friend with whom you’re watching a telenovela — or any other TV show for that matter. In the end, García, tired of the inhumanity of deportation, shows she’s more than just a snarky neighbor. She calls for justice, riling up the audience to chant “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido/The people united will never be defeated” — as awkward for me as once being forced to sing “White Christmas” at a production of White Christmas.

Sure, the ending of La Comedia of Errors gets a tad preachy, but it’s a strong reminder that getting rid of Trump and electing a Democrat isn’t going to change anything. We have to stop waiting for a Superman. Direct action from the bottom up is the only way to make significant change. 

La Comedia of Errors runs through Oct. 26 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Thomas Theatre in Ashland.

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