The Comedy of Errors

Fortune smiled upon me last week when I won the virtual lotto to Shakespeare in the Park’s The Comedy of Errors. For those of you who haven’t heard of Shakespeare in the Park, every summer The Public Theater produces two shows (not necessarily Shakespeare) at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, and admission is free! The location is stunning with the view of the park beyond the stage and Delacorte Castle suspended above. I won the lottery because it was the first preview, not to mention the terrible weather forecast for the evening. Despite the imminent rain, I was ready to enjoy myself and ended up being able to do so under clear skies!

I listened to the hoppin’ sound of swing music as I entered the space (prepped with napkins to dry my chair). The pre-show had dancers performing some great choreography, and I was happy to see them return for all of the scene transitions. The Delacorte stage has once again been transformed, this time into a local market street. Three buildings (which rotate!) of bright pastel colors have a great flat effect, resembling the buildings you might see at Universal Studios. I loved them, and they were a cute, efficient way to keep up with the constant new settings in this town of identicals.

The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s very early works; it’s his shortest play and in my opinion a little scattered. I like to think it’s foreshadowing for all of his later, stronger work. It’s like a first draft for Twelfth Night, or…what you will (that’s a lame joke for the Shakespeare nerds). Two sets of identical twins, separated at birth, find themselves traipsing around the same town. Antipholus and his servant Dromio arrive in Ephesus where their twin brothers live (also named Antipholus and Dromio of course). The new-in-town brothers start to cross paths with families, wives, and fellow villagers, and hilarity ensues as the endless accounts of mistaken identities pile up.

Which brings me to my main complaint about the play itself: it just consists of one running punch line – the same gag over and over. But luckily, we have Hamish Linklater (Antipholus) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Dromio) to take us on this ridiculous journey, so frankly, no one cares that the plot is full of the same silly stunts. These two, alongside the rest of this great cast, excel at keeping it fresh. I jump at the chance to see either of these actors perform live. I have had the opportunity to see both of them tear up the Delacorte with laughter in previous years – Hamish in Twelfth Night and Jesse in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They are hilarious comedians and watching them work together and adjust to the mishaps and slip-ups of the first preview made it even funnier.

Now, I have only seen this production one other time, a couple summers ago, and in that version, two similar looking pairs of actors played the Antipholus and Dromio roles. This allows for the big finale scene typical of Shakespeare comedies: true identities are revealed, all the lovers are matched up, and everyone goes home happy. In this production, Hamish and Jesse play both twins within their respective pairs. As wonderful as it is to see more of Hamish and Jesse, I’m not sure if the final scene works as is. I think the audience is forgiving of the awkward staging, but I’m partial to the big reveal of the two sets of twins. It’s such a great pay-off! Maybe this version’s ending would have bothered me less if they had embraced the joke about the lack of another set of twins throughout the piece and not just played toward the inevitable problematic ending…but I digress.

Despite the tricky ending and repetitive plot, it’s always a hoot to watch actors have so much fun. Thank you clouds for sparing us and keeping the stage relatively dry for this incredibly game, talented cast. I’m sure the piece will only get tighter, sharper, and funnier.

The Comedy of Errors
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Delacorte Theater, Shakespeare in the Park 2013
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Emily Bergl, Brian T. Lawton, Heidi Schreck, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Rachel McMullin, and Hamish Linklater

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s