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‘Comedy of Errors’ serves up a laugh riot

Dromio (Samuel Taylor) Antipholus Syracuse (Paul Hurley) encounter Dromio (Jurgen Hooper) Antiphlous Ephesus (Andy Lutz).

Dromio (Samuel Taylor) and Antipholus of Syracuse (Paul Hurley) encounter Dromio (Jurgen Hooper) and Antiphlous of Ephesus (Andy Lutz).

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When: Through Aug. 25

Where: Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks (18 different sites)

Tickets: Free


Run time: 75 minutes with no intermission

Updated: August 18, 2013 12:53PM

As the zesty “master of ceremonies” explains at the start of Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks’ production of “The Comedy of Errors”: “This play is about all the things in life that can go very wrong.”

Of course when you have a set of well-to-do identical twins paired with a set of homeless identical twins who are adopted at birth to be their servants, the potential for confusion is built in. Up the ante by conjuring a massive storm at sea that tears the family apart — leaving each set of master-servant babies separated in infancy with a different parent, and all washed up on the distant shores of cities that are not exactly friendly. And finally, have one set of “the boys,” now grown up, seek out their lost “brothers.”

So yes, things can and do go amok as suggested in director David H. Bell’s wildly physical, 75-minute circuslike take on this comedy of mistaken identities — a show that would do well to have an oxygen machine in the wings for its on-the-run actors.

The upside-down nature of the whole production is signalled even before the storytelling begins as we are told the actors’ truck broke down and there aren’t enough actors to fill the cast. Improvisational zaniness generates plenty of goofy laughs, but of course all ends well as the actors gradually gather.

This “The Comedy of Errors” marks the second season of this free Shakespeare project, with 26 performances in 18 neighborhood parks. Sunday afternoon’s opening show in West Town’s Eckhart Park, drew families, singles, dogs and Mayor Emanuel and his kids onto the grass in front of the handsome stage that can be folded into a truck.

As always with Chicago Shakespeare, the performers are top notch, with Paul Hurley as unmarried Antipholus of Syracuse, Andy Lutz as married Antipholus of Ephesus, Jurgen Hooper as one much-abused servant, Dromio, and the impossibly fleet Samuel Taylor as the other Dromio. A trio of high-flying acrobat-jugglers (big cheers for Wesley Daniel, Jacob Grubb abd P. Tucket Worley) very nearly steal the show as perfectly synchronized waiters who can vault with unique style.

Adding sexual tension are Lanise Antoine Shelley as a confused wife, Tiffany Yvonne Cox as her liberated sister and Yadira Correa as a very sassy courtesan. Marvin Quijada, Christophe Abiel and Jeffrey Baumgartner play additional roles with panache.

The sound system is excellent, Ana Kuzmanic’s circus-like costumes are ideally color-coordinated and read loud and clear from a distance, and Tom Burch’s minimalist set is pratfall-ready with ladders, ropes and steamer trunks.

One concern: The “fear of Shakespeare” attitude comes perilously close to dumbing down. The language, and the power of the emotions, should not be sidestepped for sheer fun. These audiences can take the challenge.

And this quibble: Chicago’s much-publicized new food trucks were nowhere to be seen Sunday. They missed an ideal opportunity.

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