Chicago Shakespeare returns Bard to parks with merry madness of ‘Comedy of Errors’
Preview: After a final tuneup at Navy Pier on July 27, the CST tour of free performances in 18 city parks opens July 28 at Eckhart Park and runs through Aug. 25.
By Lawrence B. Johnson
What could be funnier, or crazier, a more riotous lark than Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s touring production of the Bard’s “Taming of the Shrew” in parks across Chicago last summer? The answer well may be this summer’s CST encore: 26 free performances in 18 parks of Shakespeare’s madcap farce “The Comedy of Errors.”
One of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, and his first comedy, “The Comedy of Errors” scrambles two sets of twins – twin masters and their twin servants – into a froth of mistaken identities, confused love interests, sight gags and pratfalls. The 75-minute performance is like a TV sitcom on steroids.
The short of it is this: Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio arrive in Ephesus, which we (but not they) soon discover is the home of their long-lost twin brothers, also named Antipholus and Dromio. While the twosome of Syracuse are restless wanderers, Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus are settled townsmen. The resident Antipholus is married to Adriana, who – and this is important – has a sister Luciana.
Even the show’s director, David H. Bell, gets twin billing for his inseparable duty as choreographer.
“It’s really gymnastics choreography,” says Bell with a laugh. “This is very intense physical theater, with master beating servant and that sort of thing. The action is described in the play itself. It’s a world that moves a lot.
“‘Comedy of Errors’ comes from the physically based story-telling of commedia dell’arte. It’s low comedy, which always relies on pratfalls and other physical means of expression – perhaps as much as it relies on dialogue itself. Think of Charlie Chaplin and Steve Martin. And we have a wonderful troupe of physical actors.”
But “The Comedy of Errors” also marks a clear starting point in the arc of Shakespeare’s career as a writer of comedies, says Bells. This play is all of a piece, unmixed comedy that’s hilarious front to back.
“By the time you get to ‘Twelfth Night,’ ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ or ‘Measure for Measure,’ comedy and tragedy become blurred,” the director says. “And everything you see in ‘Comedy of Errors’ is, so to speak, real – farcical but real. Whereas in later plays with comic elements, like ‘Tempest,’ ‘Cymbelline’ and ‘Winter’s Tale,’ you find a elements that are both real and unreal. This is Shakespeare’s trajectory as a maturing artist.”
You have only to peer just under the farcical surface, says Bell, to grasp the reality (or truth) that propels the comedy.
“Adriana (the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus) feels real loneliness and confusion. She thinks she’s losing her husband because of something she’s done. So she tries too hard with her husband’s twin brother, believing him to be her husband. Even though things accelerate into comic excess pretty quickly, they are motivated by true emotion.”
The laughter that peals from the park crowds is real, too. Just ask Tiffany Yvonne Cox, who returns as Luciana in this show after playing Bianca in last summer’s tour, “The Taming of the Shrew.”
“It blew my mind, the level of energy we received from the parks audiences last summer,” says Cox, a native Californian and product of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s training program. “We didn’t know who would come out to see Shakespeare, and we saw turnouts as large as 2,000 people.
“As an African American, it was an amazing experience to have kids run up after a performance and ask if I was a princess. They’d never seen black people looking like that. And not just kids. We had people in their fifties telling us they’d never seen Shakespeare before. I knew I wanted to be back in it this year.”
The CST troupe plays on a large truck-bed that opens out for form a stage. Cox says no two tour stops are ever the same.
“It’s the wild outdoors. You have trains passing by, people eating and drinking, babies crying, folks on their bikes who stop to watch. And the whole cast goes out to mingle with the audience before the performance and afterward. It’s a real community event, a party in the park.”
- Backgrounder on CST’s Shakespeare in the Parks: Read it here
Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Portraying the duplicate twins in “The Comedy of Errors” are, from left, Samuel Taylor, Paul Hurley, Jürgen Hooper and Andy Lutz. (Photo by Chuck Osgood) Young audience members enjoy a Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks performance in Humboldt Park during the 2012 tour. (Photo by Michael Litchfield) The production is riddled with highly physical comedy. (Photo by Chuck Osgood) Trailer video for CST’s 2013 parks production of “The Comedy of Errors.” (YouTube) Tiffany Yvonne Cox, left, as Luciana with Lanise Antoine Shelley as Adriana in “The Comedy of Errors.”(Photo by Chuck Osgood) Below: Map of CST’s parks tour of “The Comedy of Errors.” At every stop on the 18-park tour, a stage unfolds from a specially equipped truck for another performance of CST’s “The Comedy of Errors.” (Photo by Chuck Osgood)