Shakespeare gets a makeover in ‘Comedy of Errors’

For a Shakespearean play with over 20 characters but only seven actors cast, The Public Theater’s production of “Comedy of Errors” could easily have been 90 minutes of errors. Luckily, it was anything but. The cast, made up of a refreshingly diverse group of actors, featured Tisch alumna Christina Pumariega as Adriana.

Nearly everything about the production was either conceptually innovative or entirely hilarious. While the original play takes place between the rival countries of Syracuse and Ephesus, the new version is set on the border of Texas and Mexico, beautifully playing off the current political tensions in that region. Bernardo Cubría, who played both Antipholus of Syracuse and his twin Antipholus of Ephesus, integrated Spanish lines with the usual iambic pentameter, and Matt Citron as Officer, Musician and First Merchant provided appropriate Spanish guitar throughout the production.

Shakespeare’s classic comedy follows the mishaps and mixups of two sets of twin. With just one person playing both members of each set, the two are only differentiated through the stunningly smooth switching of hats. Other characters transformed themselves with jackets, hats and the occasional fake sleeve of tattoos. In a black box theater and performed in the round, every costume change seemed magical — likely because the acting onstage was so captivating that audience was unable to remove their eyes from the silliness before them.

The level of audience interaction was truly appreciable when one considers that “Comedy of Errors” was done as part of the Public Mobile Unit. The actors took every chance to break the fourth wall and engage the audience, sometimes literally bringing them onstage or speaking to them, not in soliloquy but in conversation. The Unit adopts Public Theater founder Joe Papp’s sentiment that Shakespeare belongs to everyone quite literally, touring across the country.

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In the case of “Comedy,” the company toured to 16 different locations throughout New York City, including various prisons and recreation centers. In a city like New York, it’s easy to imagine how the diverse casting, inclusion of Spanish phrases and jovial physicality made all of the audiences fall in love with the Bard, regardless of how much they have studied Old English.

By the end of the 90 minute show, laughter that had started in the first scene was still ringing. Final call was done with the aid of a boombox and one last moment of smooth choreography. “Comedy of Errors” proves that casting diversity and performing Shakespeare in a language other than English can be successful.

“Comedy of Errors” is playing at the Public Theater until Nov. 22.

 

Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected]

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