Though we covered Shakespeare in a few of my English classes in high school and I took a course on Shakespeare’s comedies in college, I had never read nor seen any version of The Comedy of Errors. After reading the synopsis, I knew I was in for a comedic treat, as though it is a simple story of mistaken identity, the physical comedy and clever dialogue pretty much guaranteed I was going to enjoy myself.
It was a lucky happenstance that I ended up with tickets to see The Comedy of Errors last Friday night, which is the first show of this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park. I had tried – and failed – to get lottery tickets to the show. But, a friend ended up winning the ticket lottery and being unable to use her tickets for the show, so she gave them to me (thanks, Antoinette!). I, in turn, asked another friend to join me and we settled in our seats at the Delacorte in Central Park to watch some Shakespearean shenanigans unfold.
The plot is this – a shipwreck separates a family of two parents and their identical twin sons (who have identical twin servants). One son and one servant end up in one town, the other son and servant end up in another town, and the parents are separated from each other and their sons. Also, the sons have the same name, as do the servants… which causes all sorts of trouble seeing as one of the sons is married and his servant is in a relationship with a husky kitchen maid.
Utter confusion and miscommunication due to the mistaken identities sets in play a series of events that have characters getting into ridiculous situations. Everything is all a bit silly, but it’s a joy to watch due to the men who play the brothers (Hamish Linklater) and the servants (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). These actors work well together on stage (which was not a surprise as they’ve worked together before on The Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of Venice back in 2010) and they have an ease about them which is a joy to watch. Each actor creates two very distinct characters and it’s very easy for the audience to recognize which brother they are playing at any given time.
Most people are probably familiar with Jesse Tyler Ferguson from ABC’s Modern Family. I saw him as Leaf Coneybear in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee on Broadway years ago and have been a fan ever since. (Yes, I even watched The Class… and I told him as much.) Hamish Linklater made his Broadway debut in Seminar back in 2011, and I was lucky enough to have seen that as well. It was really fun getting to watch two stage actors who I was familiar with from other shows perform Shakespeare’s work.
Seeing a Shakespeare play is such a different experience than just reading it. Besides high school productions of Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, I saw Twelfth Night in college, and Hamlet and Macbeth on Broadway. For me, it’s so much easier to understand what’s going on when you can see people interacting with each other as opposed to just reading it on the page. Body language and an actor’s inflection as they speak allows an audience to piece together the general context of the dialogue (even if they may not understand all the words or phrases used). Yes, Shakespeare’s plays are written in English, but one must admit that sometimes you just don’t really get what he means upon an initial reading.
At our play on Friday night, the action was stopped about 20 minutes in because one of the set pieces was malfunctioning. (There are three revolving buildings with multiple facades apiece on stage and the center building would not move.) We waited while they tried to fix it, but it was not fixed and in turn the actors improvised a few lines of dialogue to explain the lack of scene change. Live theater, folks… gotta love it!
If you are in New York City before June 30th, I highly recommend seeing The Comedy of Errors. It’s FREE and funny – you honestly can’t beat that. For ticketing information, check out http://www.shakespeareinthepark.org/