To err is humorous

Bard in the Valley will stage The Comedy of Errors in Douglas Park, beginning on Aug. 8

After performing in Bard in the Valley’s first two summer productions

What’s more fun — and causes more chaos and confusion — than a pair of separated identical twins?

That would be two pairs of twins, in the capable hands of the Bard.

And that is just what William Shakespeare has given audiences with The Comedy of Errors, this summer’s offering from Langley’s Bard in the Valley theatre company.

The play about a pair of wealthy aristocratic brothers and their sibling servants — who wind up in the same city after each was separated years earlier from his identical twin during a storm at sea — will run on the Spirit Square stage in Douglas Park in August. And, once again, it will move to the International Festival in Willoughby at the Langley Events Centre for two performances.

Directed by Langley’s Darcy J. Knopp, the fourth annual BIV production features performers from New Westminster and south of the Fraser — from Surrey and Cloverdale to Abbotsford and Chilliwack — with seven Langley actors in the mix.

For two years, Knopp was one of those performers — acting in the first two Bard in the Valley productions in 2010 and ’11. After taking last summer off, he is excited to be returning to take charge of this year’s production.

“I was looking for a chance to do a show in Langley,” said Knopp, who now calls Chilliwack home.

“Diane (Gendron, the show’s producer) mentioned they were looking for someone to direct.”

He submitted a proposal for The Comedy of Errors — one of the first plays by the 16th century English playwright he ever saw performed.

“Everyone has a favourite,” said Knopp. “The Comedy of Errors is mine. It’s a romp through the bewitching City of Ephesus.

“Sure, it’s ridiculous and trots the border of preposterous, but think of the best adventure you have ever had; would you describe it any other way? It’s … guaranteed to make you happy you spent a beautiful summer evening at the outdoor theatre.”

While a lot of playwrights have historically used their work to comment on political and social issues of their day — which often mean little to modern audiences — Shakespeare aimed his quill squarely at the timeless subject of human nature and all its foibles.

People are people, and after more than 400 years, the playwright’s themes still resonate with audiences.

“I would hope that seeing a show set in a modern (way) with energetic actors will help dispel the myth that Shakespeare is inaccessible. It’s pretty lighthearted. It should be fun,” said Knopp.

Because one of its goals is to offer lighthearted summer fare, BIV has so far stuck with comedies, rather than venture into Shakespeare’s more tragic offerings. Previous shows include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It and Twelfth Night.

Bard in the Valley is all about people bringing a picnic and a blanket to the park on a bright, sunny day and being carried off to another place and time by the performance.

But choosing the right time and place is always a bit of a gamble. That’s particularly true of Knopp’s production.

“One of the things that comes up in the play is that everyone is obsessed with money and being paid,” said the director.

“A lot of the characters are very wealthy. I thought, ‘where do wealthy people go and play?’”

That’s how he settled upon a Monte Carlo-style casino as the perfect place to set his play.

The location adds a different flavour than the typical use of period costumes and sets, said Knopp.

After his proposal was given the green light by the selection committee, Knopp put out the call for a cast that could bring the unlikely story to life in a believable way.

“I tried to get actors who were similar in appearance and style,” he said.

“They could be seen as twins even though they behave quite differently from each other.

“They have different upbringings and influences.”

That’s been part of the fun, he said, finding out how each actor will interpret his character, based on their respective histories.

Not that their work is entirely unfamiliar to him.

“A lot of my contacts from university turned out to audition.”

Taking on the role of Antipholus of Syracus is Abbotsford’s JD Dueckman.

The part of Antipholus of Ephesus is played by Chilliwack’s Tim Howe. The other set of twins, both named Dromio, are played by New Westminster’s Lionel Rust and Chilliwack’s Luke Stevens.

BIV performers do tend to change from one production to the next because it’s summer and a lot of student-actors are working to pay for school, said Knopp, who earned his theatre diploma at University of the Fraser Valley’s Chilliwack campus.

Shakespeare in the park is a big commitment during those months, he added.

Backstage, meanwhile, there are still a number of familiar faces hard at work on the production team.

“It’s helpful to have them there,” Knopp said.

Among those working behind the scenes is Ron Williams.

The Comedy of Errors’ technical director was one of Knopp’s high school teachers.

And the director is enjoying those connections.

“Doing a show in my hometown is kind of a big deal to me,” he said.

Given a choice between directing and acting, which does Knopp prefer?

It depends on whether you want the power or the glory, he laughed.

“I think one makes you better at the other.”

The Comedy of Errors hits the Spirit Square stage in Douglas Park Aug. 8-11 and Aug. 15-18. Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening performances begin at 7 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17 will include a presentation of scenes in the afternoon in conjunction with Langley’s Arts Alive Festival.

It will also be performed during the International Festival in Willoughby Park, next to Langley Events Centre, on Aug. 24 and 25. Saturday’s performance is at 6 p.m. and Sunday’s show is at 1 p.m.

“We are delighted, once again, to offer a Shakespearean play that is fast-paced and filled with fun,” said Gendron.

“Admission is even less than it was in Shakespearean times – it’s free – thanks to the support from our generous sponsors.

“It’s a fun outdoor theatre experience for the whole family and a perfect introduction for children to live theatre, and to Shakespeare.”