Mounting Comedy with actual twins


Meet Zach and Jared Greenberg, and Aidan and Dotan Horowitz as Dromios of Ephesus and Syracuse, and Antipholuses of Syracuse and Ephesus on our first day of rehearsal.

This fall I have been blessed with a scenario that a Shakespeare lover could fantasize over, on and off, for one’s entire lifetime. The opportunity to create a production of Comedy of Errors with two sets of actual, real-life identical male twins. And to have them be not just twins but wonderful actors, inspired, natural with Shakespeare’s language and a great age for these roles.

It just so happened that Brandeis University’s School of Theatre has four upperclassmen who are all close in age and close friends. As a foursome, they make our Balinese-infused production incredibly exciting. Is this historic? Has it ever been done? I have heard of one production that had one set of twins. Has anyone had two?

One of the many things I’m discovering working on this play is how different the twins are from each other – both in Shakespeare’s play and these particular pairs of brothers. Shakespeare has delineated four very different people, with different tastes, styles, manners of communicating and even rhythms and moods.  It turns out, as most of us know, that for all their similarities, twins often have very different personalities.  This speaks to Shakespeare and his company I’d wager – to give such definition to the different characters and expand some classic schtick by developing so many complex personalities.  It is a major reason why I am beginning to warm to the Wells/Taylor Oxford Shakespeare order of plays, which lists Comedy of Errors as ninth.  After Two Gents, Shrew, Titus, Richard III  and  four other history plays.  The opportunity to examine these character differences has made the play more impressive to me.  It is also the tightest play of its eight predecessors.  At just over 1700 lines it is brisk, muscular in a lean way.  Marathon runner muscle – allowing enough speed to achieve something like a divertimento.

In a typical production (I’d previously acted in one and seen several), the absence of look-alikes causes the production to do everything in its power to make them look identical – clothing, dress, manner, hair, etc.  So in a way one nonrealistic leap of faith (they don’t look alike but everyone confuses them) is covered up with another (they’re from different countries but magically both dress alike). In our production, we’ve dressed them differently, but similar enough that others would never suspect it weren’t the Antipholus or Dromio they were used to seeing.

And in truth, such distinctions are really critical with real twins. The audience is legitimately confused! As my friend John Hadden said to me over the phone last week, “You know the play’s not going to work, right?” Does the comedy in Comedy rely on the audience knowing which twin is onstage at all times? Can they get swept up in the mayhem?

Either way, exploring the differences in the characters and getting to see all four of them as separate beings has paralleled my experience getting to know these four actors. When they first came into the room for auditions, it was so confusing I didn’t even know how to write down their strengths and weaknesses in ways I’d remember. Two would audition, go away with a different scene or the same one with opposite roles while their brothers would come in. So now I was looking at the identical pairing, but in a different scene. Then the first pair would come back, again they look exactly the same but are doing the previous scene with switched roles. Two scenes later, I was really nowhere. My notes and memory didn’t match up, and I just couldn’t track them. Thankfully it ended up working!

And boy has it worked. Act V is just such a dream with them all onstage. If we didn’t give you a program, you’d think it was the same two actors playing four roles up until this moment. Seeing them reunite, and especially the Dromios at the end, make the play remarkably poignant and touching. I must say, I did go into this production wanting to resist the staple gags, but I’ve found with this scenario that we don’t really need them. The play is fascinating to me in a very real way, and has veered far enough away from Three Stooges humor for me to be experiencing it completely differently than normal.

I have discovered, to no real surprise, that this play hinges on energy, specificity and perhaps especially, speed.   Most of the characters make large absolute shifts in want and need throughout the play. Most days I feel simply that if one hits ALL the marks required by the text, and ramps those up to the speed of fun, the comedy will just start to appear in ample doses without relying on too many prepared bits.  So far this has worked.  We open on Thursday and here’s hoping it works some more!


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