by Carole Sharwarko
January 28, 2010
There is exactly one thing wrong with Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier's Short Shakespeare! program: It wasn't around when I was a kid. But it really doesn't matter. Shows in this series are so much fun that most adult audience members revert to an adolescent state of mind while watching them.
The Bard's The Comedy of Errors is getting the juvenile treatment right now. And methinks he would be pleased, both with the constantly engaging world created on stage and the absolute blast kids and grown-ups have while absorbed in it. A classic tale, The Comedy of Errors finds Antipholus of Syracuse (Andrew Truschinski) on the island of Ephesus, searching for his long-lost twin brother from whom he became separated as an infant during a sea passage. He brings along his servant, Dromio of Syracuse (Brian Hamman), whose own twin brother also was lost at sea. In an amazing coincidence, the lost twins have the same names as their brothers, only distinguished by a hometown tag—Antipholus of Ephesus (Jackson Doran) and Dromio of Ephesus (Scott Thomas). With no one on Ephesus including Antipholus of Ephesus' wife aware of the visiting twins, people are constantly mistaking one twin for the other. And both Antipholuses mistake the other's Dromio for his own.
William Shakespeare created this crazy world, but it was up to the actors to make sure children understood it. At least one 8-year-old theatergoer had no problem figuring out the plot. Most kids will understand, and they're encouraged by a company member who tells them before the show that their ears simply need to adjust to Shakespeare's English.
Actors augment what may be lost in language with stellar physical performances. There's so much action and hilarity packed into just about every minute of the show, children's heads flip back and forth, their wide eyes glowing. Simple set changes turn into tumbling acts. Every emotion becomes an excuse for both Dromios to throw themselves to the ground or leap for joy.
Since the show runs concurrently from Chicago Shakespeare Theater's main Private Lives show, this production borrows that comedy's circular stage. Having seen Short Shakespeare! The Comedy of Errors on the normal proscenium stage, this theater-in-the-round experience is stunningly more fun. Actors spend lots of time off the stage in this show, as well, running in colorful costumes up and down aisles and making entrances in the balcony. At one point, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse scale ropes extended from the balcony down into an aisle. They have a conversation while sitting on platforms above the audience's head.
This type of exciting innovation in children's theater could easily beat whatever new 3-D movie experience Hollywood producers dream up. A show such as The Comedy of Errors puts together everything children love—simple humor, color and action—and everything parents want—an engaging, intelligent live theater experience—into a wonderful short show.
Explore Short Shakespeare! The Comedy of Errors and learn more about the production.