Photo by Liz Lauren
Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s founder and artistic director Barbara Gaines, easily one of the city’s most prolific and influential directors, is retiring from the theater with a gift for Chicagoland: a reprise of her wonderfully jocund 2008 version of The Comedy of Errors. The familiar mistaken identity farce is wrapped up here in an equally droll (is that sacrilege to say?) framing device written by Second City’s Ron West. It’s fair, in fact, to say that the added scenes, about a 1940 British movie company hurriedly trying to film its own CoE as the Luftwaffe drops bombs everywhere trying to hit nearby targets, are often even funnier to a modern audience (even to this Bard-friendly one) than the original play. No biggie: this show is about actors (and a director) having a great time, and it shows.
Gaines has brought back most of that 2008 cast, including CST stalwarts Ross Lehman, William Dick, Bruce A. Young, Kevin Gudahl, Greg Vinkler, and others, and they clearly enjoy being together again. West’s clever frame also involves a reunion of many British actors who have not worked together in a while, adding yet another layer of doubling to a play that already contains a lot of it. (Start, of course, with the two pairs of separated twins in Shakespeare’s script). Honestly, at times it’s almost as if the actual Shakespearean play is the least important of the two stories being told, especially in Act One, where West needs to take time to set up his plot. Not that this is a bad thing, in this case, since West’s work complements CoE beautifully.
Making specific comments about the acting, the direction, or the tech seems, well, less important than usual for this one. This time, it’s all about having a good time and saying goodbye to a Chicago legend. Suffice it to say that everything and everyone that we can see is outstanding. Lehman and Gudahl as the Dromios, Dan Chameroy and Robert Petkoff as the Antipholuses (Antipholi?), Susan Moniz as Adriana, the confused wife of Petkoff’s Antipholus (as well as the cheating wife of Lehman’s director Dudley Marsh who is having an affair with Chameroy’s music star Phil Sullivan——I’m going to stop trying to cover all of the bases here because it’s already confusing even me) and everyone else onstage—will that do it?—are amazing, making it easy to follow all of the doubling and foolishness (at least a lot easier than it is here). (And yes, that is indeed Chicago stalwart Ora Jones majestically playing the Abbess in the picture at the top.)
Gaines’ 37-year tenure at Chicago Shakespeare Theater has seen it blossom to become a Regional Tony-winning, internationally acclaimed innovator in the arts that now has three stages located on Navy Pier. In addition to the works of Shakespeare and other historically important playwrights, she has made a point of introducing shows like Six to the USA and providing a home for new projects like Ingrid Michaelson’s musical version of The Notebook. Probably more than any other artistic director in town, she is practically synonymous with the theater she leads; her shoes will be hard to fill.
Tickets for The Comedy of Errors are available from Chicago Shakespeare Theater. It is playing on Navy Pier through April 16. For more Chicago reviews or show information, see chicagoonstage.com or theatreinchicago.com.