Chicago Sun-Times


Bard, film’s golden age collide on outskirts of ‘Comedy of Errors’

- BY STEVEN OXMAN For the Sun-Times

Comforting nostalgia is not usually what you’d expect from a production of “The Comedy of Errors,” one of Shakespear­e’s lightest, most farcical comedies.

But this Chicago Shakespear­e show isn’t really “The Comedy of Errors.”

I don’t mean that in a snobbish, purist sense. I mean that in a very real sense; this entire evening is much more about the play-outside-the-play (as opposed to the play-within-the-play). And even more, perhaps, seeing this show is about the events outside the playing of this play, which, as noted, is not really “The Comedy of Errors.”

Let me explain.

This is the valedictor­y production as artistic director for Barbara Gaines, who founded and led Chicago Shakespear­e from its days performing in a pub to its status as a major institutio­n, with a regional Tony Award and a grand, multi-theater space on Navy Pier.

For her farewell, Gaines has chosen to re-stage a production from 2008 with many of her favorite collaborat­ors. But let’s just consider that part of the comedy; they could actually make more of it.

And the production involves an entirely separate script, written and now re-written by Second City veteran Ron West. The idea is that a group of actors who worked together on a popular pirate movie have come together in 1940 in England, during the Nazi blitz, to contribute their part to the war effort by making a film of “The Comedy of the Errors.” The nation needs entertainm­ent, you see.

This goes way beyond the relatively common technique of framing a Shakespear­e play with a simple set-up. West’s play-outside-the-play becomes the main attraction. Even though we get nearly the full story, “The Comedy of Errors” feels more sampled than fully done, although the denouement, in which two sets of twins finally appear on stage at the same time and discover the cause of all the play’s comic confusions, still manages to provide a pinnacle.

Overall, though, it’s far, far more entertaini­ng watching the superlativ­e actors Ross Lehman and Kevin Gudahl banter and

clash as the film’s director and the egomaniaca­l classic thespian respective­ly, than it is to watch them as the two twin servant characters, both named Dromio. And the supporting players all have their moments. As the director’s unfaithful actress wife, Susan Moniz delivers a convincing killer stare. As the dashing leading man with a heart murmur, Robert Petkoff shows us what happens when an actor forgets his own phobias.

Does West’s extensive script here add up to a full-on entrée?

It doesn’t. There’s a genre in which actors’ offstage and onstage lives merge but West’s take on this never gets to that level. It’s enjoyable but incomplete, neither fully satisfying on its own nor able to activate the Shakespear­ean scenes with extra insight or inflection.

In the end, this production of (not) “The Comedy of Errors” feels like going to a festive farewell tribute and gorging for nearly three hours on flavorful appetizers.

You wouldn’t consider it a great meal, but it’s certainly a good time, leaving you with the friendly warm and fuzzies.

 ?? LIZ LAUREN ?? Long-lost twins Dromio of Syracuse (Ross Lehman, left) and Dromio of Ephesus (Kevin Gudahl) meet in “The Comedy of Errors.”
LIZ LAUREN Long-lost twins Dromio of Syracuse (Ross Lehman, left) and Dromio of Ephesus (Kevin Gudahl) meet in “The Comedy of Errors.”

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