The difficulty with putting on a Shakespearean play in our modern age is that everyone seems to have grown rather bored of them. With only thirty-seven plays to his name, even Shakespeare apparently has his limits with regard to his ability to capture people’s attentions. I, for one, have never actually seen a normal Shakespearean play performed (although I would like to), but I think I can well enough understand the popular sentiment that his work has grown tired over the years. Most everyone who cares enough to see Shakespeare has already seen them all a thousand times over, and so they wish for something new.
Enter the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and their whimsical power to remake the old and brand it anew with a flourish and a bow. Although I can still well enough understand the desires of the Shakespearean purist snob, I do wholeheartedly embrace this form or imaginative retelling that the CST engages in. In truth, there really is nothing to complain about, since the plays themselves are always preserved well within the retelling to a tee.
This time around, the CST put on a rousing rendition of The Comedy of Errors, with a brilliant twist that set it as a play within a play during World War II. In the play, some movie producers attempt to create a film, the Comedy of Errors, for the British troops fighting against the Nazis in Europe, all while a whole host of things go wrong. The lead actor (who plays one of the Dromio’s) seemingly loses his wife to her younger more attractive costar, that same costar mangles everyone’s performance with his atrocious hygiene and terrible breath, and the crew realizes they must resort to thievery of filmmaking supplies in order to complete their work, all while the German Luftwaffe soars overhead to bomb the place!
Both stories are well paced and superbly executed so that the audience is happily able to remain invested in both the Shakespearean play as well as the background story happening around it. I remember smiling to myself whenever the “director” yelled “Action!” or “Cut!” because it meant we could go back to the other extremely interesting story that went on in parallel. The 1940s sensibilities of dress, architecture, and overall layout of the set lent a sort of whimsy that bade me forgive it for its intrinsic lack of polish. I say that because the sets looked rather cheap and poorly placed, until I realized that this was part of the magic. It was a movie studio within the play, and thus they were confined by their own space just as the real-life actors were restrained by theirs.
This sort of “Inception” level theatre was extremely enjoyable to watch and very refreshing. I would encourage anyone to go and watch it, provided they can stomach a fair level of swearing and public indecency put forward by the adulterous director’s wife and her eccentric costar. I hope to see many more productions from the CST going forward.