"Comedy of Errors" (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre): Welcome Diversion from the Parental Grind

"Comedy of Errors" (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre): Welcome Diversion from the Parental Grind

Reviewed by Chad T. Volkers

Chicago Shakespeare Theater in the Parks presents A Comedy of Errors.

It turns out that the audience of a Shakespeare play, when set in a Chicago park on a Sunday Afternoon, tends toward the string-cheese side of life. I should have anticipated this, and yet, here I was, gobsmacked by all the kids. I picked my way through a few rows at the back, cursing myself all the while for forgoing that sheet I’d kept in my backpack all last weekend for Pitchfork Festival, before giving up and slouching down into what should soon be an undisturbed sightline, as soon as that curly headed blonde kid sits down.Should he even be in the sun? I think, I’m pretty sure that’s him sizzling.

Prior to arriving I hadn’t been certain of the scale of this production (was this just going to be 6 guys standing in the park somewhere?) but now I can see that there’s a full stage, some support tents, even some green flag-bunting. A basketball game is over to the right and a kickball game is happening across from the stage but there are stacks of speakers that, apart from a few erratic moments at the start, allow for us to hear what’s happening on stage. Greeting my arrival was a dance troupe, arms up and (I think) playing the tiny finger cymbals my grandmother once gave us a cheap version of after a trip to Spain. I referred to my program and discover it’s the Soul and Duende Spanish American Theater, giving a presentation of “Forever Flamenco.” The dust flits into my nose and I sneeze twice and suddenly the music’s done and the dancers are walking off the stage.

David H. Bell, the director, has chosen to stage The Comedy of Errors as a play-within-a-play, a conceit I recognized from school plays and civic theater productions of Shakespeare. I could understand it, especially considering the age of the audience, but still somewhat tired. In addition, prior to the framing efforts, the play was introduced by a plea from one of the performers for energy from the audience. To me, this is an admission that either: a. they didn’t trust themselves to communicate the play effectively or b. they didn’t trust the audience to keep up. Neither of these things helps maintain that kind of uneasy audience/performer trust relationship that helps a play maintain its pacing and tension.

Unfortunately, these kinds of moments cropped up at several times and served as distractions, although I sensed that it cut both ways. There were the natural beats in the play, and then there were these other, oddly elongated or exaggerated beats that the ensemble occasionally inserted in what felt like an effort to invite a few more people into the world of the play. At its most egregious, this would take the form of pairs of lines being slowed and spoken disproportionally loudly, so that their mouths looked like choir singers or dogs shlocking peanut butter off the roof. Often this happened when there was a line that contained a neat, easy rhyme, and I couldn’t help thinking “Shakespeare: Now with #hashtags!”

There were other elements that contained this kind of camp (theatre kids gon’ theatre kid, nah’mean?) but for the most part the faults with the play came from that original discomfort or unease about “will this come across?” Admittedly, there are times when I feel like I’m in the pocket of the play and then whoosh, a whole paragraph goes shooting past my head. Considering that, I can’t imagine being 7 years old and trying to latch onto the language.

I know, traditional review wise, I’m supposed to mention different performers and the strengths or weaknesses of their respective performances. With that said, I’d say most of the performances were of a piece in that they were all commendably committed without once sending me rushing to the program thinking, “Shit, who is THAT?” The only company members to accomplish that feat, incidentally, were the 3 acrobats performing their feats of minor daring during the choreographed set changes. A hearty congratulations here to P. Tucker Worley, Wesley Daniel, and Jacob Grubb on their excellent performances.

Now, in conclusion, I’ll cop to my humbuggery about this whole enterprise. Perhaps if I had kids and was about 8 minutes away from bringing them to a school closed for the summer and insisting they LEARN SOMETHING AND STAY OUT OF MY HAIR, The Comedy of Errors would be a welcome diversion from the parental grind. For those of us who spent their Sunday morning recuperating behind a bloody mary, I’d recommend waiting for a regular season CST production.

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