From left, Michela Micalizio, Robbie Harrison and Elliot Nye – members of Fenix Theatre –rehearse Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” at the bandstand in Deering Oaks. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

There are many reasons to head down to Deering Oaks park in Portland to enjoy a free outdoor production of Shakespeare’s play “The Comedy of Errors.”

Here are the two best: “People will laugh a lot and have a good time,” said Hannah Cordes, who directs the small-cast farce from Fenix Theatre Company. It starts at 6:30 p.m. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday beginning this week through July 31. It’s 90 minutes, performed on the bandstand.

For people reluctant to go back inside for theater or to gather in large confined crowds, the Fenix production is a care-free alternative – the chance, as Cordes said, “to dip your toe back in.” There is plenty of room to spread out, and if the play is not the thing, then you can leave.

“But we hope people come out. There has been a lot of joy in the rehearsal room creating a play again, and we are very excited about sharing a play again,” said Cordes, the education director at Portland Stage. “And this is a crazy farce. It’s one of those plays that is really clown heavy, really silly, really funny and totally ridiculous. We are leaning into the physical comedy of it, which is my favorite way to work. It’s a bunch of clowns who are super-confused. That is the story of ‘The Comedy of Errors.'”

The actual storyline is only slightly more complicated. “The Comedy of Errors” is full of wordplay, mistaken identities and slapstick. At its base, it’s about two sets of identical twins separated at birth. Chaos ensues when Antipholus and his servant, Dromio, arrive in the Greek city of Ephesus, home of each of their twin brothers, who share the same names and status in life.

Members of Fenix Theatre Company, from left, Elliot Nye, Hollie Pryor, Kat Moraros, Robbie Harrison and Michela Micalizio will appear in Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” at the bandstand in Deering Oaks. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

It has a cast of five – Robbie Harrison, Kat Moraros, Michela Micalizio, Elliot Nye and Hollie Pryor, all Fenix veterans – with lots of double-casting. Both Dromios are played by the same actor, as are both Antipholuses.

“That helps the silliness and ridiculousness of the play, and the confusion of the play,” Cordes said. “It leans beautifully into the moment and is just the kind of play we want to bring to the park – light and bright and silly and fun. That is what I want to see after we have all been through such a hard year and a half.”

Each actor has a base costume with a bold color, and becomes a different character with the addition of costume elements. Cordes described the show as bare-bones, with a couple of chairs, a table and a few props, featuring actors who are comfortable being playful, bold and brave.

“We don’t need much,” she said. “The park and the actors are all we need.”

Hollie Pryor, left, and Robbie Harrison, members of Fenix Theatre, rehearse Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” at the bandstand in Deering Oaks. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

This wasn’t the original plan. Peter Brown, Fenix’s artistic director, badly wanted to direct the history play “Henry IV, Part 1.” He had it lined up for summer 2020, with a dream cast of Tony Reilly as King Henry and David Butler in the role of Falstaff, but the pandemic scrubbed those plans. Brown put back it on the table, briefly, for this summer, but pulled it back again when the path of the pandemic was still uncertain. For now, “Henry IV, Part 1” is on the Fenix schedule for Deering Oaks in 2022.

But that left a void for this summer. Brown didn’t want give up on the idea of a summer show, so he approached Cordes about putting together a small-cast Shakespeare play. Cordes had directed Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice” for Fenix in 2018, and stayed actively working throughout the pandemic, at Portland Stage and with other web-based projects. She was excited about the challenge of creating something for a live audience that would be fun and rewarding – and apt for the times, both in content and form.

Portland has only recently begun hosting events again at Deering Oaks, because of ongoing issues with a browntail moth infestation in the park’s trees. The city has stepped up insect control measures through spraying, and Cordes recommended people bring lawn chairs so they don’t sit directly on the grass. People who have not been vaccinated are asked to wear masks, but otherwise there are no restrictions.

“We are just encouraging people to do all the things we have all gotten really good at doing, which is taking care of each other,” she said.

Robbie Harrison, left, and Michela Micalizio, members of Fenix Theatre, rehearse Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” at the bandstand in Deering Oaks. Performances start Thursday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


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