REVIEW: The Comedy of Errors (Court Theatre)

Graney’s adaptation brings the laughs, but lacks substance

 

Wilson, Ehrmann, Goodrich, Hellman - h

       
Court Theatre presents
   
The Comedy of Errors
   
Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted and Directed by
Sean Graney
at
Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis (map)
through October 17  |  tickets: $30-$60  | more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Sean Graney’s The Mystery of Irma Vep (our review ★★★★) was one of the highlights of last season, with the seamless execution of the quick-change heavy script garnering huge laughs and multiple Jeff nominations for Court Theatre. With their new adaptation of The Comedy of Errors, it’s apparent that Court is trying to see if lightning can strike twice, with six actors playing 20 characters in another quick change extravaganza, but the script lacks the sophistication that made Irma Vep so memorable. In Graney’s hands, Shakespeare’s story of two sets of separated twins is taken to new levels of Goodrich, Hellman - vabsurdity, building humor around the characters’ awareness of the plot’s implausibility. The jokes are very funny, but too much of the play’s substance is lost as the story essentially becomes a 90-minute running gag.

In the dilapidated town of Ephesus, Antipholus (Erik Hellman) and Dromio (Alex Goodrich) of Syracuse search for their missing twin brothers, separated from them in a shipwreck during infancy. Because of a feud between the two cities, they conceal their true identities, inciting mass confusion as they are mistaken for their counterparts. Hellman and Goodrich are the focal points of the production, playing both sets of twins, leading to some impressively rapid costume changes (see video example here) and backstage movement.

As the characters most bewitched by the events surrounding them, Antipholus and Dromio are also the most self-aware, often breaking the fourth wall to comment on the ridiculous nature of the plot they are in. When Antipholus calls out Dromio for interrupting him mid-soliloquy, this works. But when Goodrich constantly checks in with the audience to check if a joke landed, it gets old. These scenes are also when Graney returns to some of his Irma Vep tricks, with varying degrees of success. An audience participation segment as Dromio describes his beastly wife Luce (Elizabeth Ledo) works incredibly well to create a relationship with the viewer, but a song sung by Dromio later in the show seems out of place and odd for odds sake (Irma Vep used dulcimers, here it’s a ukulele).

 

Ledo - v Goodrich, Stoltz - v

As more time becomes devoted to meta-comedy and increasing the slapstick, less time is spent on the actual story and the characters’ relationships. The actors turn to exaggeration to differentiate their multiple roles, and in doing so the illusion becomes more important than the action. Steve Wilson is the major exception to this as Officer Jailor and Balthazar, with the Jailor’s unreturned love for Luciana (Ledo) garnering a vocal lament from the audience in the play’s closest thing to a “dramatic” moment. On the flip side, Wilson has amazing talent for slapstick, and the fate of Balthazar is of the funniest moments of the show.

As the play becomes more and more absurd, it becomes obvious that the story is just a launching pad for an endless barrage of meta-theatrical gags. By the end it feels like there are no stakes at all, and while it is fun to be along for the ride, there’s still a huge emotional connection missing. Granted, when the ride is Kurt Ehrmann in drag recounting his days at the mall getting his ears pierced, it’s worth it.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

 

 

 

 

 CAST (bios below)

Kurt Ehrmann – Angelo, the Gold Merchant/Dr. Pinch /Courtezan/Guard
Alex Goodrich – Dromio of Syracuse/Dromio of Ephesus/Emelia, the Abbess
Elizabeth Ledo – Luciana/Luce, the Kitchen Wench/Towncrier/Executioner
Erik Hellman – Antipholus of Syracuse/Antipholus of Ephesus/Egeon
Stacy Stoltz – Adriana/Boatswain/Angry Merchantess
Steve Wilson – The Duke/Balthazar/a random merchant/Office Jailer

 

ARTISTIC TEAM (bios below)

Sean Graney – Adaptor and Director
Tom Burch – Scenic Designer
Jacqueline Firkins – Costume Designer
Heather Gilbert – Lighting Designer
MIchael Griggs – Sound Designer
William Collins – Production Stage Manager

 

Photo of Kurt EhrmannKURT EHRMANN is thrilled to be making his Court Theatre debut with The Comedy of Errors.  Kurt was last seen understudying the roles of Don and Teach in Steppenwolf Theatre’s American Buffalo, and he had the honor of performing both: Teach while the production was still in Chicago and Don during its limited engagement at McCarter Theatre in New Jersey. A company member with The Hypocrites, Kurt has performed in many of their productions, including: The Bald Soprano, The Threepenny Opera, The Hairy Ape, Equus, Death of a Salesman, and Machinal. Other Chicago credits include Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (Edward II, Othello), Chicago Children’s Theatre (The Hundred Dresses), and Apple Tree (Mountain). Kurt would like to thank you all for coming and dearly hopes this dress doesn’t make him look fat.

Photo of Alex GoodrichALEX GOODRICH is excited to make his debut at Court Theatre! Other Chicago credits include: The Emperor’s New Clothes, Taming of the Shrew, Aladdin, SS!, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and How Can You Run with a Shell on Your Back? (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre); Gutenberg! The Musical! (Royal George); It’s A Wonderful Life (American Theater Company); The Misanthrope (Greasy Joan); She Stoops to Conquer (Northlight Theatre); and The UN Inspector (Next Theatre). He is a member of Barrel of Monkeys and loves his wife!

Photo of Elizabeth LedoELIZABETH LEDO Court credits: The Real Thing, Uncle Vanya,and Titus Andronicus.  Chicago credits include: Boleros for the Disenchanted (Goodman Theatre), Amadeus, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Funk It Up About Nothin’ (Chicago Shakespeare Theater), Morningstar and Homebody/Kabul (Steppenwolf Theatre), The Old Curiosity Shop (Lookinglass Theatre), Arms and the Man (Writers’ Theatre), The Chalk Garden (Northlight Theatre),Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple (Drury Lane), Say You Love Satan (About Face Theatre), Pinocchio (Marriot Lincolnshire Theatre). Regional credits include: Romeo and Juliet and Comedy of Errors (Summer Shakespeare at Notre Dame), Arcadia (Indiana Repertory Theatre) and 20 productions with Milwaukee Repertory Theatre where some favorites include Almost Maine, Escape From Happiness, The Lonesome West, Wit, The Clean House, and The Crucible.  Elizabeth is a voice talent with Stewart Talent Agency and has done numerous televisions and radio spots as well as a regular with The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas produced by The Falcon Picture Group.  Elizabeth is a proud graduate of Loyola University of Chicago and has been a member of Actors Equity since 1999.

Photo of Erik HellmanERIK HELLMAN has appeared at Corut in The Mystery of Irma Vep, Titus Andronicus, and Arcadia. Recent Chicago credits include: Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, and Edward II (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre); Honest, Elephant Man, and Huck Finn(Steppenwolf Theatre); All My Sons (Timeline); as well as shows at Writers’ Theatre, Next, Remy Bumppo, Chicago Dramatists, The House, The Side Project, Oak Park Festival, and multiple appearances as an ensemble member of Strawdog Theatre Company. Outside of Chicago, Erik has performed off-Broadway at the Mirror Repertory Theatre and has made regional appearances at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Shakespeare Santa Cruz Theatre, and Houston’s Stages Repertory Theatre. Film work includes The Dark Knight.

Photo of Stacy StoltzSTACY STOLTZ appeared as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desireat Writers’ Theatre. She was also seen in Over the Tavern with Noble Fool Theatricals, and she is a company member with The Hypocrites and The House Theatre of Chicago. The Hypocrites’ shows include: Frankenstein, Oedipus, The Hairy Ape (The Goodman Theatre), Miss Julie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and 4.48 Psychosis (Steppenwolf Garage). The House Theatre credits include: Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe and Hatfield and McCoy. Stacy also performed off-Broadway in Sean Graney’s The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love Suicide at 59E59 Theaters.

Photo of Steve WilsonSTEVE WILSON is honored to be making his Court Theatre debut. He has been working throughout Chicago as an actor, director, and educator for the past 14 years. As an actor, he has worked with the fine folks at The Factory, The Griffin, and A Red Orchid, to name a few. He is a proud member of The Hypocrites, where has performed in dozens of shows, including: The Bald Soprano, Angels in America Parts 1 and 2, The Cherry Orchard, Arcadia, Balm in Gilead, The Glass Menagerie, and most recently, as the title role in Sean Graney’s adaptation of Oedipus. He also serves as the Artistic Director of A Red Orchid Theatre’s Youth Ensemble, where he will be directing Craig Wright’s adaptation of The Iliad, which will open this November. Steve is in his fourth year as a full time acting teacher at North Lawndale College Prep. He wants to thank his NLCP family for being so supportive of his professional endeavors.


 

ARTISTIC TEAM (bios below)

Sean Graney – Adaptor and Director
Tom Burch – Scenic Designer
Jacqueline Firkins – Costume Designer
Heather Gilbert – Lighting Designer
MIchael Griggs – Sound Designer
William Collins – Production Stage Manager

Photo of Sean GraneySEAN GRANEY previously directed The Mystery of Irma Vep and What the Butler Saw at Court Theatre. He is the Artistic Director/Founder of The Hypocrites, for which he has directed over 30 productions. He was a participant in NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Theatre Directors 2004/06, and has won two Joseph Jefferson Citations. Other credits include Edward II (Chicago Shakespeare Theater), The Hundred Dresses (Chicago Children’s Theatre), and The Hairy Ape (Goodman Theatre).

TOM BURCH is making his Court debut. Chicago productions include: Gas for Less and Talking Pictures (Goodman Theatre). Touring productions include: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew, and others (Chicago Shakespeare); Souvenir, Red Herring, and others (Northlight Theatre); No Exit, The Hairy Ape (The Hypocrites); shows for American Theater Company, About Face, The House Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, Strawdog, and many others. Regional credits include: Williamstown Theatre, Actors Theatre Louisville, Arizona Theatre Company, Cleveland Playhouse, and others. He is the recipient of three After Dark Awards and three Jeff nominations (1 win). Upcoming projects include: Scorched (Silk Road Theatre Project), and Civil War Christmas and Sense and Sensibility (Northlight). His work can be seen online at www.tomburch.com.

JACQUELINE FIRKINS is pleased to return for her sixth season at Court Theatre. She designed costumes for last season’s production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and will return again this season to design Porgy and Bess. Design work includes: sets and/or costumes for Hartford Stage, Dallas Theater Center, Portland Center Stage, Goodman Theatre, Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Westport Playhouse, Shakespeare & Company, Shakespeare Festival of Tulane, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Yale Repertory Theater, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, Brave New Repertory, About Face Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Yale School of Drama, and Dorset Theatre Festival. Jacqueline is a recipient of a 2001 Princess Grace Award and heads the design program at Loyola University Chicago.

HEATHER GILBERT designed The Mystery of Irma Vep and What the Butler Saw for Sean Graney at the Court.  Recent designs include Streetcar Named Desire and The Old Settler at Writers Theatre, Our Town at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York and with the Hypocrites in Chicago, and The Hundred Dresses with Chicago Children’s Theatre. Her work as a lighting designer has been seen on many other Chicago stages including Steppenwolf, Remy Bumppo, Timeline, About Face, and countless storefronts all over the city.  Heather was a recipient of the NEA/TCG Career Development Grant.  Heather serves as the Head of Lighting Design at Columbia College Chicago, and received her MFA at the Theatre School at DePaul. Heather will design Home at the Court this fall.

MICHAEL GRIGGS‘s Chicago credits include Dave DaVinci Saves The Universe (Jeff Nominated),The Sparrow (Jeff Nominated), San Valentino and the Melancholy Kid, The Curse of the Crying Heart, Valentine Victorious (Jeff Nominated), Cave With Man, The Boy Detective Fails, Hope Springs Infernal (Jeff Nominated), The Wizard of Oz, and Hatfield & McCoy with The House Theatre of Chicago; Angels in America Parts 1 & 2 (Jeff Citation), Mud, Threepenny Opera, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, Miss Julie, True West, The Bald Soprano, and Death of a Salesman with The Hypocrites;Argonautika (Jeff Nominated), Black Diamond: The Years the Locusts Have Eaten (Jeff Nominated), The Brothers Karamazov, and The Wooden Breeks with Lookingglass Theatre;Ghostwritten (Jeff Nominated) with Goodman Theatre; Sonia Flew with Steppenwolf Theatre; Honus and Me and The Hundred Dresses with Chicago Children’s Theater; A View From The Bridge with American Theater Company; Edward II with Chicago Shakespeare Theater; The Lieutenant of Inishmore and Po Boy Tango with Northlight Theatre; La Posada Magica with Teatro Vista; Puntila and His Man Matti with Strawdog Theatre; Pyrates and Dracula with Defiant Theatre; and Water with Chicago Dramatists.  Michael is a graduate of Southern Methodist University and a proud company member of The House Theatre of Chicago and The Hypocrites.

WILLIAM COLLINS is joining Court for hsi 5th season. Past Shows include: The Year of Magical Thinking, The Illusion, Thyestes, Arcadia, Uncle Vanya, and Carousel, among others. William has also worked with Redmoon Theater (Sink.Sank.Sunk, The Cabinet), Peninsula Players, About Face Theatre, The Neofuturists, and The Goodman Theatre. He most recently stage managed Sugar at Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre.

NOTE: All bios and face shots are courtesy of Court Theatre’s production webpage.

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