Shakespeare swings in this contemporary rendition of The Comedy of Errors by Mile Square Theatre (MST), which opens this weekend at Monroe Center for the Arts. Set in the jazz age of the 1940s, this light-hearted comedy features a case of mistaken identity when two sets of twins separated since childhood stumble upon the other in the city Ephesus.
Artistic Director Chris O’Connor says the Elizabethan-era play will be set in the 1940s to bring out a “certain lightness of [the] jazz” of the ’40s – a lightness that lends itself to the lighthearted comedy. O’Connor believes directors must be careful when deciding upon a time period in which to set a play, because the period of the play anchors the story itself.
“You can set it in Elizabethan time, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the contemporary sense; rather, find a period of history that can have a dialogue with the play,” O’Connor said.
MST performed A Midsummer’s Night Dream during the summer of 2007 on the waterfront in Hoboken as part of the free outdoor theater series. For that production, O’Connor again chose contemporary themes and settings for his befuddled lovers. “With Midsummer’s Night Dream, we chose the 1950s because the play dealt with a lot of innocence. I’m interested in presenting classical works so contemporary people can understand them,” he said.
A theatre opens its doors
The Monroe Center for the Arts is a multi-disciplinary arts community, housing many local artists and displaying various art forms, including: photography, theater, music, and sculpture.
Barry Campbell, facilities manager at the center, has hosted Mile Square in the past and is appreciative of all the hard work necessary to create such art.
“The many forms of art expression [at the center] lend a voice to the community,” Campbell said.
Matt Fick, set designer for MST, said the center has been “very accommodating,” allowing Fick and stage manager, Chris Ronaldi, to change the layout of the space, pulling down walls, and creating a raised three-quarter, seating area hosting 100 seats. The intimate space will even include a lobby with a bar and comfortable seating to hosts guests before and after shows.
After lounging in the lobby, audience members will be taken in by the elaborately designed stage draped in “varying tones of purple – poppy and vibrant, jazz colors,” Fick said.
The next step
O’Connor created the non-profit theatre, back in 2002, wanting to bring an understanding of theatre to his community and, according to Mile Square’s mission statement, to “reflect the beauty and complexity of today’s world.”
O’Connor started small, performing shows mostly outdoors. After performing at Hoboken High School and the Hoboken Historical Museum, Mile Square landed performances at Frank Sinatra Park Amphitheater and eventually hopes to make a permanent home at Monroe Center.
Through his experience, O’Connor has learned that cultural enrichment is vital to the well-being of the community, and geared his performances of classical texts to a younger generation, wanting to “provide opportunities for theatre education in area schools in the form of outreach.”
“Arts organizations should be involved with arts enrichment,” O’Connor said, “especially with young people [still] in school. So, we decided to write a study guide to help the children understand the plays better.”
A study guide for Shakespeare’s Othello is available on Mile Square Theatre’s website: milesquaretheatre.org.
“I believe the quality of life in a community has some involvement with the arts available to the community,” O’Connor said. “Theater creates a wonderful dialogue with the community and if the play is relevant,” he continues, “the audience will talk about the plays, learn from the play – really gain a lot from a performance.”
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