Shakespeare shines in the Park
By Leslie (Hoban) Blake
Shakespeare presented outdoors — whether on a lawn, in a parking lot or at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater — is a sure sign that Summer has truly arrived in New York City. And, because the Bard still speaks to us, in forms tragical, comical, historical and/or pastoral, directors continue to return to his oeuvre, updating and/or adapting the plays to whatever period and/or message speaks to them in the present.
Fortunately The Comedy of Errors is a comic romp pure and simple and although presented less often than say A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it contains one of theater’s most ubiquitous tropes — that of twins, separated and lost from their families and each other, only to be found and reunited by story’s end.
Director Dan Sullivan, fresh off his recent Broadway revival of Orphans, returns with yet another set of orphaned brothers, this pair freely adapted from both Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s own source material — Menaechmi by Plautus — which literally translates as ‘The Twin Brothers.’ That Shakespeare sure knew his funny since Plautus is the reputed father of all comedy as we know and understand it, he was also the source for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum — cue Stephen Sondheim and his “Comedy Tonight” theme song.
But there’s nary a toga in sight in this revamped, fast-paced 90 minute Guys and Dolls – meets – The-Godfather version of the same source material that also spawned the Rodgers and Hart musical The Boys from Syracuse. These boys are from a non-specific 1940’s style Italian town, filled with gorgeous young dancers who can cut a rug and jitter a bug (thanks to choreographer Mimi Lieber) , and so they do for a full half hour pre-show. Try to get there early, there’s something divine about watching live jumping jive against a Central Park backdrop — cue “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” And they also perform all the clever set changes so you’ll have a chance to see them throughout the evening as well.
The leads fall to two of Shakespeare in the Park’s younger veteran actors – Hamish Linklater (The Merchant of Venice) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) — who also appeared together in The Winter’s Tale. Their legions of TV fans will also have a grand time watching these two doing live double duty as the four brothers — yes four!
In addition to the two master Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus played by Linklater and Ferguson’s two Stan Laurel-ish servant Dromios, there’s another spot of inspired double casting with Skipp Sudduth playing both the Duke (as a comic Don Corleone) and the overly endowed maid in love with one of the Dromios — what’s that line about no small parts?
Other actors to be singled-out include Emily Bergl’s Lucille Ball-inspired, pratfalling Adriana (the wife of one of the Antipholi) and her luscious sister Luciana (Heidi Schreck), Jonathan Hadary’s puppet-toting father of the lost boys and Becky Ann Baker as their gun-toting nun/mother. Plus a special shout-out ‘hey nonny’ to De’Adre Aziza as the courtesan who sings a down and dirty ditty (“Sigh No More” from “Much Ado About Nothing”) with music by Greg Pliska.
In the sublime hands of Sullivan and his wife/choreographer, Lieber (the same team responsible for the luminous The Merchant of Venice two summers ago), lucky audience members who can grab a free ducat to this year’s Shakespeare in the Park are in for the most fun currently on the New York stage (and a shoo-in for a possible move to Broadway as The Merchant of Venice and Hair did in recent years).
Still to come is the new musical version of Love’s Labor’s Lost, directed by Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher), starting on July 23rd.
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