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VSF prepares for comic opening of 2011 season

The Virginia Shakespeare Festival will open its 33rd season on July 6 with the production of The Comedy of Errors, directed by Jack Young. The Comedy of Errors is one of the Bard’s earlier plays and is based on the old Roman comedy Menaechmi by Plautus.  It is the story of twin brothers and their twin servants, separated in infancy and now searching for each other.

The play is Shakespeare’s shortest; however, it is full of comic potential with a series of mistaken identities, including a pair of sisters who alternately are involved with the twin brothers.

Director Jack Young, former artistic director of the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and also of the Warehouse Theatre in Greenville, S.C., stages this Comedy of Errors in its original Roman setting— albeit a very colorful Roman world that feels much like Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

“The shows we think of as classic comedies in the United States, ‘I Love Lucy’, ‘Abbot and Costello’, and ‘Bugs Bunny,’ all have their roots in this play,” Young said.

Kevin Hasser, most recently appearing at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., in All’s Well That Ends Well and in First Stage Theatre’s production of Fuddy Mears, plays one of the twins. Nick Ciavarelli, last seen in Much Ado About Nothing at New York’s Frog and Peach Theatre Company, appears as his brother.

Virginia Shakespeare’s Artistic Director Christopher Owens said, “It was certainly a great casting challenge to find actors for these two sets of twins, particularly with casting in both D.C. and New York.  I had pictures and vital statistics with me all the time and had to make an offer to Kevin and Nick that was contingent on both of them accepting as, besides being very strong actors, they were the physical match that was best.  For the twin servants it was a little bit easier as I had already cast Aaron White (Romeo in VSF’s Romeo & Juliet in 2007) as one of the servants, and he was with me in New York while we looked at all the other guys that might play as his twin. I could just stand them up beside Aaron and judge quickly whether I thought this paring would work.”

What worked for Owens was Israel Guttierez, then playing in To Whom It May Concern at the ArcLight Theatre Off-Broadway as the other half of the twin servants.  Joining these two sets of twins are Broadway veteran John Michalski as the Duke (last seen at VSF in 2005 as Prospero in The Tempest) and Tamara Johnson (Alice More in VSF’s recent A Man for All Seasons) as the Abyss. Annie Rubino and Elizabeth Jernigan, both D.C. theatre veterans, take on the lovelorn sisters.

 The Comedy of Errors opens July 6 and plays Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., closing on July 17.  Performances of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival are at the Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall. For ticket information, contact the Box Office at 221-2674, or purchase tickets online www.wm.edu/boxoffice.