By: David Sheward
Shakespeare in 90 minutes? Yes, director Daniel Sullivan and a company of madcap actors and dancers manages to cram The Comedy of Errors, the Bard’s early adaptation of a Roman farce, into a madcap hour and a half for the first offering of the Public Theater’s free season at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. No intermission and judicious cutting leads to the brief running time and even allows for snazzy jitterbugging choreographed by Mimi Lieber.
This classic tale of two sets of identical twins causing confusion has seen a revival of interest in the last few years with productions set in contemporary London and a Caribbean playland, and adapted as a rap musical (The Bomb-Itty of Errors). Taking a reference from the Greek homeland of one set of twins (Syracuse), this production is set in 1940s upstate New York where Greyhound buses are substituted for ships and the Duke is replaced by a mafia boss. To add to the fun, the same actor plays a burly kitchen wench in drag.
The trick of this production and the challenge for Sullivan is having the lookalikes, twin masters and servants with same names separated at birth by a wreck at sea, played by the same actors. Lanky Hamish Linklater (the masters) is the timid, retiring Antipholus of Syracuse and the tough, roughnecked Antipholus of Ephesus, while an almost manic Jesse Tyler Ferguson (the servants) doubles as the goofy Dromio of Syracuse and his crude brother from Ephesus. Both these comic actors, who’ve achieved a degree of fame through TV sitcoms, demonstrate their theatrical chops by creating strongly distinctive personalities for their dual identities.
Sullivan skillfully creates the illusion they can be practically two places at the same time with his split-second staging. Toward the play’s end, the audience is just as dazzled as the characters when Linklater and Ferguson disappear into a convent onstage and then, moments later, emerge in the aisles of the Delacorte. Sullivan solves the final problem of having both sets of twins onstage simultaneously with an ingeniously simple device. He also offers a generous heaping of slapdash tomfoolery with pasta and pratfalls flying everywhere.
Emily Bergl channels tough dames like Jean Harlow as the shrewish wife of one of the masters, and Heidi Schreck finds the backbone in her shyer sister. Skipp Sudduth conveys both the avuncular, slightly threatening authority of the Duke and the ribald lustiness of the kitchen maid. Jonathan Hadary hilariously doubles as the woebegone father of the Antipholuses and a Freudian Doctor Pinch. De’Adre Aziza is a vampy Courtesan, and Becky Ann Baker makes the most of the brief but vital role of the Abbess who wraps up all the loose plot strings in this frothy, fizzy summertime treat.
June 26, 2013
June 18-30. Delacorte Theatre, W. 81st St. and Central Park West, NYC. Tue-Sun 8:30 pm. Running time 90 minutes, no intermission. Free.www.shakespeareinthepark.org
Photos: Joan Marcus
Follow Us On Facebook