Review by Kathleen Campion
If, when someone says “Shakespeare,” your brain rewinds to Mrs. Paskiewitz’s fourth period class, right after lunch, on a stuffy June day, that’s a travesty, and you’ve been robbed. Fortunately, the remedy is a number-6 train ride away, with The Comedy of Errors at the Public Theater.
Everyone knows about the wonders of the Delacorte—Shakespeare in the Park—all summer long. Not everyone knows about the Public’s Mobile Unit. Director Stephanie Ybarra gets out on stage before the play begins, to tell us that the work they do speaks to the Public’s mission—the conviction that Shakespeare is for everyone. The Mobile Unit takes Shakespeare to the people, traveling throughout the five boroughs to homeless shelters and prisons and schools. Now, for a short run, they are at home base on Lafayette Street.
The unit’s doing Comedy of Errors in the up-close-and-personal 99-seat Shiva Theater, where the audience surrounds the actors and the players stare deeply into your eyes— just the way they do it in a medium-security lockup.
The actors chat you up beforehand in a disarmingly familiar way. They are so excited about what’s about to happen they are nearly levitating. Then, during the performance, they might sit down next to you to commiserate. They might pose a startlingly personal question. They might well need your help in fighting off demons, and they are not shy about asking!
Laughing loudly and often at the antics, posturing, strutting, and caviling of the seven actors delivering sixteen parts, I was struck with the notion of sending this slender company to Oregon where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has commissioned thirty-six playwrights to translate Shakespeare’s plays into modern English. No need; these guys have nailed it. Nothing’s lost in translation here. (And, forget it Oregon, we can’t spare them.)
As with most of Shakespeare’s comedies, there is an innate silliness to the premise of this play. This is the one where twin sons, attended by twin servants, are shipwrecked, feared lost, and never seen again until one master/servant pair arrives in the land where the other set has prospered, and merriment and confusion ensue.
On the page, it sounds uninviting, but it’s not on the page at the Public Theater; it’s on the boards! The mad interplay among the professionals is bumped up as they dragoon a cadre of front-row audience members into the action. Start to finish COE offers the authenticity of Shakespeare’s Globe, while at the same time imbuing this centuries-old play with a treasured freshness.
This gang is so much a company that it’s difficult to single out performances. That said, Zuzanna Szadkowski sweeps effortlessly from madonna to whore with enormous brio, and David Ryan Smith’s jeweler slips from powerbroker to wheedler with head-snapping speed.
Still, the winning silliness of the evening rests on the shoulders of the two—Bernardo Cubria and Lucas Caleb Rooney—who play the twins. They build whole characters out of hats. More to the point, when any of the ‘four’ walks on stage, you know which one it is before he speaks. Maybe you have to see the performance to recognize how startling that is.
The thing is, this is fun. It is lively and joyous. It is one of those uncommon experiences in theater when the joke is absurd and we are all delighted to be in on the joke. Just go.
A Comedy of Errors – By William Shakespeare; directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah.
WITH: Matt Citron (Officer/Musician/First Merchant). Bernardo Cubria (Antipholus of Syracuse/Antipholus of Ephesus), Flor de Liz Perez (Luciana/Second Merchant), Christina Pumariega (Adriana), Lucas Caleb Rooney (Dromio of Syracuse/ Dromio of Ephesus), David Ryan Smith (Angelo/Egeon/Pinch), Zuzanna Szadkowski (Solina/Emilia/Courtesan).
Moria Sine Clinton did the scenic and costume design; Shane Rettig supervised the music; Christopher Windom directed movement while Lisa Kopitsky was the fight director. Presented by the Public Theater at 525 Lafayette Street, Manhattan through November 22. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission.