Director Barbara Gaines and writer Ron West are determined to shake off these recession blues and battle audiences’ wartime weariness using a frivolous little comedy concerning two sets of identical twins separated at birth and accidentally reunited years later amidst mayhem and madness. Ironically, in order to accomplish this they’ve adopted a play-within-a-play format for Shakespeare’s contribution, and ingeniously framed it within Mr. West’s: scenes that take place in recession-plagued and war-torn London, 1940, amidst the mayhem and madness of the Blitz. Does it work? Like gangbusters. Indeed, Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s rarely produced “The Comedy of Errors” is an artistic triumph on almost every level and quite possibly, despite its frothy hi-jinks at heart, one of the most topical shows in town. The show transports audiences from the confines of Navy Pier to the cavernous interior of England’s Shepperton movie studios where a motley crew of artistic types and temperaments are committing Shakespeare to celluloid, all for the purpose of “entertaining the troops.” There’s the oozes-gravitas Shakespearean vet who must settle for a secondary role when an American pilot flying with the RAF is given the lead in an attempt to persuade America to join the war. The leading lady dallies with her strapping co-star when her director/husband isn’t looking. That co-star suffers from a hilarious bout of halitosis. Gaines’ deft comic hand has never been so confident, West effortlessly generates clever dialogue and compromising situations that add resonance and depth to “Comedy”’s scenes and a fine and funny ensemble—there isn’t a weak link in the nineteen-person cast—offers an outrageously enjoyable orgy of comic invention. In the end, the Shepperton Studio storylines all promise to work themselves out for the best, in the spirit of Shakespeare’s finale for “Comedy” and as a nod to that play’s most touching theme concerning families torn apart, reunited and all the more stronger for it. It’s a kind of pluck and spirit—especially useful in pugilistic times—that Shakespeare, Gaines and West clearly admire and celebrate here, and the reason for this production’s added resonance. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand, (312)595-5600. This production is now closed.