Darko Tresnjak on Directing The Comedy of Errors
In conversation with Fiona Kyle
This is your second time directing this play. What do you love about The Comedy of Errors?
Scholars tend to talk about the historical importance of this play. That it’s an early study of separated twins, as in Twelfth Night. Or an early play about a family torn asunder, a theme that Shakespeare returns to again and again, especially in the Romances. But I think that it’s an imaginative and well-crafted play in its own right. I love how deftly Shakespeare juggles the farcical plot, two sets of twins in a single location in the span of a single day. With the exception of the Duke, the characters we meet are largely working class, as in The Merry Wives of Windsor. There are six great leading roles and many terrific character parts. The plotting, as in all farces, is somewhat cruel and sadistic – everyone ends up looking insane at one point or another. But ultimately, it’s a wonderfully democratic and inclusive play. There is a place at the table for everyone.
The production is set in the mid-1960s and inspired by the Greek film Never on Sunday as well as other songs and movies from that era. Can you speak more about your influences?
Yes, Never on Sunday and Topkapi with Melina Mercouri and Zorba with Anthony Quinn and Come September with Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida. Also, early Bollywood and the fantastic 1965 Indian movie Gumnaam. And It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with Ethel Merman. I love these movies and this music. It’s hot and sexy and cheesy and irreverent and expressionist. And those are all good things for The Comedy of Errors.
I also thought about the differences between the two sisters, Luciana and Adriana. The first one is initially meek and obedient and rather submissive about male/female relations. But Adriana is a raging tornado, like Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Prentice in What the Butler Saw, and just about any outrageous and boozy character played by the wonderful Lee Grant in the 1960s. Adriana struck me as a very sixties creation.
In The Comedy of Errors, there is a character named Nell, the heavyset wife of one of the Dromios, who is the butt of many jokes. Do you find it difficult to deal with that kind of humor directed at someone’s body in 2017?
In the wake of the election, yes, but there is no apologizing for it, just as there is no apologizing for The Comedy of Errors. It’s an irreverent play based on Roman comedies and has jokes about passing gas (yes, in a Shakespeare play!). Regarding Nell specifically, I thought about the great, groundbreaking comedienne Melissa McCarthy. The women she plays are powerful, sexy, and ultimately successful and they make fun of the skinny girls. If the others don’t see them that way, it’s their problem.
You spoke in rehearsals about contemporary parallels, how The Comedy of Errors reflects our world today.
Yes, I think there’s something very contemporary and rather vulgar about the play, the way the characters are so anxious to shame each other in public, especially the two spouses. “Shaming” is a big part of this play and something that we discuss a great deal today, especially on social media and in tabloids. It’s terrible, but it seems to have been around for a long, long time.