It is inescapable: There is tragedy wrapped around the comedy being staged by Boca Raton’s Evening Star Productions.
The troupe, started last year to produce adult-oriented fare at Sol Children Theatre, was in the final stretches of rehearsals for Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” when director Laura Ruchala died of a brain aneurysm on Sunday, Aug. 17.
“It was completely out of the blue,” artistic director Rosalie Grant says. “We did discuss canceling. But it was unanimously decided not to. I’ve never seen her angry, but if we didn’t do this show, she would be angry.”
Grant says Ruchala, who recently starred in Outre Theatre Company’s production of the dark comedy “Mr. Marmalade,” left the Evening Star show in great shape, with a solid concept inspired by the late artistic director of the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival, Kevin Crawford, who suddenly passed away last winter. Crawford’s brother Todd worked with Ruchala in shaping the script. Stage manager Jerry K. Jensen stepped in as acting director.
“As Jerry put it so succinctly, ‘We will laugh through our tears,’ “ Grant says.
Jensen says he’s given the cast a theater meditation to keep them focused. “We use that line from Sondheim that goes, ‘Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight,’ “ he says. “That’s our mantra. She would not want us to be grieving. It will be a joyous show.”
Without giving too much away, Jensen explains that Ruchala and Crawford’s concept was to frame the farcical play, about two sets of identical twins and comical mix-ups, in a child’s bedroom, where the characters emerge from a toy box.
“It’s so funny, just slapstick all the way,” says Jim Gibbons, who plays the Duke of Ephesus and co-starred in “Mr. Marmalade” with Ruchala. “The only reason I auditioned for the show was because she was directing. Mr. Marmalade was the only non-Shakespeare she had done, so I knew that she knew her stuff with Shakespeare. She wanted [the Duke of Ephesus] to be almost a Jimmy Buffett kind of character.”
Sofia Manolesco, who plays the Courtesan, says she thought what drew Ruchala to this work early in Shakespeare’s career was the humor. “It’s a very, very funny piece. I think that is what Laura liked about it. She could really use her creativity. She wanted to bring out the humor in this classical play. She thought it was very funny. She expressed some disappointment in some other productions that she thought could have been funnier.”
Manolesco adds: “She also laid out the blocking and the main idea of where we were going with the play. So right before this tragedy happened, we were ready to go into our first rehearsal off script. What Jerry did when he stepped in was he made it very clear he was going to stick to Laura’s ideas as much as possible. We didn’t change what we already had. We just fine-tuned, but we didn’t change the foundation of what Laura laid out.”
Jenkins says, “I’m sure opening night is going to be emotional, but we’re going to have a ball. Then, we’re going out to a Mexican restaurant afterward, because Laura liked Mexican food.”
“The Comedy of Errors” is running through Aug. 31 at Sol Theatre, 3333 U.S. 1, in Boca Raton. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $10 for students. Call 561-447-8829 or go to EveningStarProductions.org.Copyright © 2015, South Florida