Barbara Gaines, who built Chicago Shakespeare Theater from an idea into a signature institution for an international city, is retiring, and for her final directorial assignment at her theater she has chosen Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, the wide ranging ribald mistaken identity romp she tackled fifteen years ago, and she has brought back some of her original cast, coming full circle with actors she loves to work with. AND she has added a whole new play to nestle it in, a play within a play. Now the play is set in WWII London during the Blitz with the performers struggling to create a film in a mere 36 hours that they can send out to bring comfort and laughter to a nation at war. It is a genius move.
Every single moment of this show is a joy to behold: there is a beauty to witness masters at their craft, and when those masters have impeccable comic timing the audience gets to explore laughter from titter to guffaw to head back hooting. The studio scenes written by Second City veteran Ron West are simply brilliant as the actors play out rivalries and idiosyncrasies: Kevin Gudahl as Lord Fairfax who plays Dromio of Ephesus but wants to do Henry V and keeps breaking out into the St. Crispin's Day speech is particularly comic but every single member of this ensemble is outstanding. Ross Lehman’s Dudley Marsh, the director of this film who plays Dromio of Syracuse, is a CST stalwart and this is a star turn of dry wit and hilarity. I am so glad to see Ora Jones back at CST as Doris who plays the Abbess. There is singing in harmony, there is split second timing physical comedy, there are slamming doors and double takes. This show could be a textbook on how to do funny, except it's so entertaining you don’t notice the skill at work.
The period costumes by Mieka Van Der Ploeg deserve kudos, as does the sound design by Lindsay Jones which has us all ducking for cover when the bombs fall.
There are wonderful shows, and then there are shows liek this one that raise the bar. Shakespeare did not need Ron West’s additions but the production becomes something fresh and new and enjoyable with the frame of his words. Barbara Gaines' The Comedy of Errors is a gift to all of us, to CST, to Chicago from a master who has given our community gifts beyond measure with the creation of this institution. I have family members who love Shakespeare and language because of her work. Say thank you to this great lady and do yourself a favor and get to Navy Pier to see this swan song, a landmark of entertainment.
The Comedy of Errors is running only through April 16th, 2023 at the Courtyard Theater on Navy Pier, 800 East Grand Avenue in Chicago . For tickets and information go to www.chicagoshakes.com/comedy
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