Kansas Classical Repertory Theatre set to debut this weekend

The Kansas Classical Repertory Theatre will kick off its inaugural season Friday evening with “The Boys From Syracuse” at Kansas University’s Murphy Hall.

The musical — along its source material, William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” — will be performed in rotation throughout the rest of July.

Built around the theme of translation and adaptation, the company will utilize the same cast and set for both productions.

“The stories are told in a similar way, but also there’s comparisons that you can make back and forth,” said John Staniunas, a professor of theater at KU and director of “The Boys From Syracuse." “I think it’s interesting and fascinating because you don’t often see the original material to see how a musical gets made.”

It’s an ambitious undertaking that distinguishes KCRT from other theater companies in the region, said Peter Zazzali, director of “The Comedy of Errors.”

Zazzali and others behind the newly formed KCRT hope to provide Lawrence with its own professional theater company.

“Nobody else is doing rotating repertory. It’s expensive,” said Zazzali, who is also an assistant professor of theater at KU. “You’re trying to accomplish twice the amount of work with the resources that you normally would have for one particular production.”

“The Boys From Syracuse,” which originally made its debut in the 1930s, will be staged in a “Victorian steampunk” setting in Staniunas’ interpretation. (Think mechanical “clocks, cogs and wheels,” he said.) Zazzali, meanwhile, envisioned his production as a nod to commedia dell’arte, a form of improvised comedy popular in Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Both “The Comedy of Errors” and “The Boys From Syracuse” tell the story of two sets of identical twins who, after being accidentally separated at birth, are brought together years later after a series of wild mishaps relating to mistaken identities.

Shakespeare’s play, written in the late 1500s, is itself based loosely on another work — "The Menaechmi," by the Roman playwright Plautus.

Despite their ancient origins, Staniunas said the plays still retain a timeless feel.

“I think whenever you do something like this, what makes it fresh is that the human experience doesn’t really change,” he said. “We fall in love, we mistake people for other people — just the experience of romantic love, the idea that it takes a lot to be in relationship, that life throws you a lot of curveballs and you have to deal with them as they come along.”

To purchase tickets and see this season's schedule, visit KUTheatre.com.

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