Like an agile troupe of Elizabethan players schooled in multiple roles, twelve FPT company members appear in both Two Gents and Errors. Of them, Regan wins the award for most versatile, acting in each, designing the shared set, and directing the very convoluted action of Errors.
When a writer uses the device of mixed-up twins in a comedy, possibilities for madcap farce abound. In Errors, Shakespeare multiplies the craziness quotient by two. In ancient Asia Minor, a young merchant named Antipholus of Syracuse (Jay Colligan) and his servant Dromio of Syracuse (Duncan Pflaster) were separated as infants from each of their identical twins during a shipwreck. Twenty-three years later, they arrive in the city of Ephesus where, unbeknownst to them, their twins (Antipholus of Ephesus, played by Paul Thomas, and Dromio of Ephesus, played by Paul Waxman) live. Dromio of Ephesus crosses paths with Antipholus of Syracuse, thinks he is Antipholus of Ephesus, and sets in gear a play's worth of mistaken-identity episodes whose mayhem rivals the looniest of the Marx Brothers' films.
Clueless already? Don't worry. FPT provides a synopsis that you can consult throughout. Besides, part of the fun in Errors is having no idea what is going on. Regan does a fine job of choreographing the chaos, throwing in plenty of behind-kicking, head-boxing, ear-pulling, foot-stomping, and jumping into each other's arms. He also handles crowd scenes well. He whips an absurd situation into a hilarious froth when, with servants and several merchants in tow, Antipholus of Ephesus is refused entry to his own house. And the unveiling of the true identities at the end, with the twenty-plus cast members on-stage, proves richly satisfying.
In one area, the direction doesn't work: Regan goes for an obvious and extreme display of rage as the frustrations over mistaken brothers reach the level of screamfest toward the end. In particular, Thomas's tantrumlike anger could use some reigning in. A subtler, more smoldering interpretation would lend the proceedings more weight.
As she did in Two Gents, Lissa Grossman shines, this time as Antipholus of Ephesus's shrewish wife Adriana, whose complaints about marriage will touch a chord in many modern spouses. (Again, this character recalls other Shakespearean heroines: Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew and the barbed-tongued, independent-minded Beatrice of Much Ado About Nothing.) Julia C. Brown provides perfect counterpoint as Adriana's unmarried sister Luciana, who is certain she will be content once she becomes a wife.
The two Dromios (played by Pflaster and Waxman with glee) look so much alike I could barely keep them straight. In contrast, the actors playing Antipholus, although they share similar builds and sport dark hair and beards, would never be taken for each other. These brothers are further distinguished through characterizations: Thomas's Antipholus is hot-headed and mercurial, while Colligan's takes a more languid approach to life, as evidenced by his smooth wooing of Luciana. This discrepancy works: One set of twins looking and acting so much alike, and the other set not, plays off the audience's acceptance of the preposterous plot in the first place. Where the almost identical Dromios encourage our belief in the likelihood of two sets of twins encountering each other, the different Antipholuses accent the absurdity of the situation.
A bit of trivia for aficionados: Both plays inspired Broadway musicals. A rock version of Two Gents produced by Joseph Papp and the New York Shakespeare Festival debuted in 1971, with music by Hair composer Galt MacDermot and lyrics by Six Degrees of Separation playwright John Guare. Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, and George Abbott turned Errors into 1939's The Boys From Syracuse (which was made into a film the following year). Florida Playwrights' Theatre doesn't attempt anything quite that ambitious. Instead, it delivers early Shakespeare on a low budget, and it's a scream.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Written by William Shakespeare; directed by Angela Thomas, with Paul Thomas, John Manzelli, Lissa Grossman, Julia C. Brown, Matthew Regan, Paul Waxman, Lori Dolan, Hardy Louihis, and Andre Todd Bruni. Through September 8.
The Comedy of Errors. Written by William Shakespeare; directed by Matthew Regan; with Jay Colligan, Paul Thomas, Paul Waxman, Julia C. Brown, Lissa Grossman, and Duncan Pflaster. Through September 7. For information call 954-925-8123 or see "Calendar Listings.