So what if it’s the first time for Vincent Carlson-Brown taking charge of a full-scale production of a Shakespearean classic. He not only brings plenty of directing experience, but the confidence that comes with careful preparation.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha grad is “very thankful for the opportunity” to guide his “biggest project to date,” but anyone with doubts about his ability need only talk to one of the women in the cast of his Comedy of Errors that opens this weekend in Elmwood Park, paired with Julius Caesar in the Nebraska Shakespear Festival’s 26th season.
The fact that she’s his wife, Sarah Carlson-Brown, is outweighed by the eloquence of her pride in working with her intimate partner. “It helps that I think he is a directing genius. He has such an intense knowledge of the play. It is an honor to be directed by him and a joy to watch others discover what an amazing talent he is.”
Wow! Theatrical spouses of the world, eat your hearts out. Crowds gathered on the green before the Festival stage can judge for themselves before the comedy closes July 7.
If it’s a big test for the director, he hasn’t shied away from putting his own stamp on the production. He’s presenting it as “a 1930s Dustbowl Carnival—so we have a bearded lady, strong man, jugglers and fire-breathers,” plus multiple guitars.
Given Shakespeare’s shortest play, two hours, he added an opening prologue and music. UNO technical director Robbie Jones provides the scenic and lighting design.
After 13 years with the festival, starting as an undergraduate, and continuing as associate artistic director, “The newest part is working with a big production team on a big stage,” Vincent noted, in contrast to directing on the company’s annual fall tour.
He headed the touring Much Ado about Nothing, but that involved just seven people on high school stages. Last summer, he served as assistant director for Hamlet, and he’s directed plays for Westside High School.
This summer, he also choreographed a big battle scene for the festival’s opening production of Julius Caesar, which will alternate with A Comedy of Errors the final July weekend. “I’m a fight director by nature,” so he’ll have the identical twins named Antipholus and their twin servants named Dromio going at it with Dr. Pinch, “a kind of voodoo master,” in a donnybrook that ends with combatants being carried off on shoulders.
When Will Shakespeare asks us to buy the conceit of mistaken identities, where even spouses don’t recognize which identical twin confronts them, it takes some stagecraft to bring it off. The Dromios, for example, wear identical yellow bib overalls and brown hats; their masters both wear distinctive red vests with floral patterns.
One master, Antipholus of Syracuse, is played by an award-winning master of comedy well-known to Omaha audiences, Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek. The other Antipholus is John William Schiffbauer, an import from Washington, D.C.
“They mimic each other,” Vincent explains, in their walk and talk. Both beat their servants by grabbing hats off their heads and smacking their shoulders three times.
The two Dromios, played by UNO’s Colton Neidhardt and New Yorker Russell Daniels, are a bumbling, well-padded pair. “They do a lot of clowning, a little Three Stooges,” the director says, including one of the Bard’s most famous low-comedy language scenes, where they liken parts of a female’s anatomy to global destinations.
The story evolves from a shipwreck where the identical twins are lost at sea, thus separated from their parents. The father, Egeon a merchant of Syacuse, finds himself in Ephesus in danger of being executed at the end of the day, and their grieving mother has retreated to a nunnery.
The usual ensues: wild mishaps, wrongful betrayal, near seduction, accusations of infidelity, arrests, thefts, madness and demonic possession. And, of course, as suggested by another title, all’s well that ends well.
If it ends well, from the director’s viewpoint, he’ll give some credit to two of his UNO drama professors, Cindy Melby Phaneuf, who taught him to fully value the text, and Susann Suprenant, who taught him look for viewpoints physically outside the text.
He doesn’t view working with the imported professionals bringing Equity status any differently than working with comparably experienced local talents. It’s all about “managing different personalities, how they work, respecting their process, getting the most out of them.”
Comedy of Errors runs June 28-30, July 1, 5 and 7 at 8 p.m. preceded by the Greenshow at 7 p.m. in Elmwood Park, south of the University of Nebraska at Omaha Bell Tower. Admission is free with donations accepted. Julius Caesar resumes July 6 and 9. For information call 402.280.2391 or visit nebraskashakespeare.com.