Seeing double is twice the fun in new take on Shakespeare comedy
BY HEDY WEISS
A sassy little “newsboy” zooms onstage on a scooter, acknowledges the crowd with a friendly “How y’all doin’?” and then proceeds to let everyone know how things are going down in Ephesus of late.
The city, with its trash-filled streets and empty warehouses peppered with broken windows, clearly has been hit by hard times. And its attitude toward outsiders, particularly visitors from the wealthier city of Syracuse, is unambiguous. They are just not welcome.
The play at hand (at least in some form or another) is “A Comedy of Errors.” But be warned: In this fast-and-furious revamping of the original — devised for Court Theatre by director Sean Graney — a hefty portion of Shakespeare’s dialogue has been excised and replaced by a more street-wise, improvisatory text.
The essential plot line has been left intact. It’s all about the chaos that ensues when two sets of identical twins, paired as masters and servants and separated in infancy, end up in the same city. But Graney has intensified the already manic nature of things by having just one actor (the debonair Erik Hellman) playing Antipholus of both Ephesus and Syracuse, while another (Alex Goodrich, that most guileless, goofily graceful and witty of clowns) plays both Dromios, their much-abused servants. The two actors are verbally and physically fleet and funny, as well as tireless. And of course they are dead ringers. But it’s a case of so much for so little.
The remaining four actors in the cast (an outrageously wacky Elizabeth Ledo and fearless Stacy Stoltz, along with Steve Wilson and Kurt Ehrmann) play everyone else, from wives and courtesans to public officials and merchants, and do so with abandon.
Meanwhile, four equally unflappable dressers oversee all the split-second changes of costumes, wigs and facial hair backstage, and must be counted as essential cast members, too. (In fact, they take well-earned bows at the end, much as they did when Graney staged his similarly crazed production of “The Mystery of Irma Vep” last season.)
Graney’s 90-minute take on this early Shakespearean comedy is neither as clear nor as linguistically clever as the hip-hop version, “Bombitty of Errors,” seen (with Ledo in a crucial role) at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater a few seasons back. And his attempt to inject some darker notes into the play (notably about how financial woes can trigger xenophobia) don’t really pan out. But there is a wacky energy here as the virtuosic actors run themselves ragged with great aplomb and engage in the sort of improvisatory wizardry that is a Chicago hallmark.
Plus, any adaptation that cuts this silly play down to an intermissionless romp is OK with me.