Theatre Review: Comedy of Errors (Public Theater)

comedyIn Central Park, New York, there is an open-air theatre (or is that ‘theater’?) called the Delacorte. In that… space with multiple spellings (oh, the times it is unfortunate to be Canadian reporting on America) the Public Theater company puts on Shakespeare. For free. And they get good actors, including a famous production of Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino three years ago.

That is why I found myself waiting in line at 6:30am recently. I’d have been there earlier, possibly by 5:45, but due to some rainy weather I figured it would be safe to sleep in a bit. You see, they give out the tickets at around noon, so if you literally snooze, you probably lose. For Merchant, people reportedly camped out the night before. Lucky for me, Comedy doesn’t have quite that cachet, delightful though star Jesse Tyler Ferguson is. And honestly, waiting in line at the Delacorte is one of those only-in-New-York experiences, and my secondary goal (in addition to, you know, getting tickets) was to find myself in line next to interesting people.

Interesting they were. They brought a tarp on which to sit, portable iPod speakers, cream cheese, bagels, crackers, orange juice and champagne, and they were happy to share. (All I had in return were some complementary chocolate coins from a Brooklyn steak house, but they didn’t seem to mind.) Which is how I found myself getting tipsy at 6:30 in the morning and thoroughly enjoying myself even while dodging raindrops and shivering because I dressed too light. The point? Seldom can waiting in line be a trip, but I highly recommend this one. Also: bring booze.

The play!

Comedy of Errors doesn’t get performed all that often, and apart from knowing the title I went in completely blind. I also tend to have trouble with the Shakespearean dialogue for the first 20 minutes or so until my ear adapts. Not so with this production; the Public Theater staged their Comedy in 1930s-ish America Town, complete with Brooklyn-inspired gangster accents. The heavy enunciation of every syllable made the language terrifically easy to understand, rendering it accessible without dumbing it down. Even the stage crew added to the fun, lindy-hopping their way through set changes with big-band background music.

Shakespeare is well known for having played around with identity, and Comedy of Errors is an early example of this: it features three sets of identical twins, two of whom were separated at birth. Director Daniel Sullivan opted to go with four actors, requiring Ferguson and Hamish Linklater to each play his own brother, while Emily Bergl and Heidi Schreck round out the sister act. The plot hardly matters – suffice it to say that everyone on stage brought a great energy and sense of fun to the play, with no down moments.

Ferguson did well finding two sides of the same servant; heavens only knows why both he and his brother were named Dromio before their separation as infants, but he managed to separate his two roles nicely while still suggesting their similarities. Dromio of Syracuse is a clown used to pleasing his master; Dromio of Ephesus directs his clownishness into frustrated asides at his slightly harsher masters. Likewise, Linklater brings a gentle determination to his Syracusean Antipholus while the Ephesian counterpart has a harsher, capitalistic bent. Both distinguish their separate roles with a simple adjustment to inflection and physical carriage; it’s a nice bit of acting on both their parts that kept the story humming along nicely.

Jonathan Hadary does well as the slightly hapless Egeon in his two short scenes, using the first to set up the play’s premise through the use of hilariously silly dolls and the last to tie a neat little bow on all the kerfuffle. The Duke (Skipp Sudduth) added a nice little twist to the standard Godfather role, seeming almost weary of presiding over the insanities of life in Ephesus.

Light comedy, like any genre, is hard to pull off well – after all, how over the top is too over the top? Comedy of Errors hit the sweet spot, not unlike a mimosa at 7am.

4.5 out of 5 bottles of booze discretely consumed in public.