Barbara Gaines' swan song at Chicago Shakes a glorious, uproarious tribute to theater

“The Comedy of Errors” - ★ ★ ★ ★

Always leave them laughing, goes the old saying.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Barbara Gaines took that adage to heart. For her final production as artistic director of the company she founded 37 years ago, Gaines delivers an enormously entertaining remount of CST's 2008 adaptation of “The Comedy of Errors,” an early Shakespeare comedy about mistaken identity.

Complemented by Second City veteran Ron West's very funny frame newly adapted for 2023, this “Comedy of Errors” - inspired by film's Golden Age - is an ingeniously conceived love letter not only to the theater and cinema, but to the dedicated artists who devote themselves to it.

Leading Chicago Shakespeare Theater's all-star production of "The Comedy of Errors" are CST favorites Ross Lehman, left, as Dromio of Syracuse and Kevin Gudahl as Dromio of Ephesus, twin brothers separated by a shipwreck. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

As swan songs go, this “Comedy” - whose all-star cast includes Chicago Shakes favorites William Dick, Kevin Gudahl, Ora Jones, Ross Lehman, Greg Vinkler and Bruce A. Young, among others - is particularly apropos.

The ingeniously conceived show unfolds as a play-within-a-play. The time is 1940. The place is London's fictional Shepperton Studios, where - during the early days of World War II's London Blitz - an intrepid troupe of artists are filming “The Comedy of Errors” to boost the morale of British soldiers.

Only a madcap comedy could support Shakespeare's preposterous plot about two sets of twins (with the same names) who are separated in infancy by a shipwreck. Decades later, and unbeknown to each other, they end up in the same city, sparking confusion among their friends and loved ones.

Luciana (Melanie Brezill) fends off the advances of Antipholus of Syracuse (Robert Petkoff), who she thinks is her sister's husband but is actually his identical twin in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's "The Comedy of Errors." Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Presiding over the slightly less outrageous film is the beleaguered Dudley Marsh (Lehman). A compassionate director who brings out the best in his cast and crew, Dudley plays Dromio of Syracuse, a servant to Antipholus of Syracuse, who's been searching the world for his lost twin brother. Antipholous is played by Emerson Furbelow (Robert Petkoff), a dashing leading man who's having an affair with Dudley's wife, Veronica, a demanding diva played by Susan Moniz.

Dudley's friend and collaborator Lord Brian Hallifax (Gudahl), an aging, narcissistic actor refusing to admit his leading-man days are behind him, reluctantly takes on the role of Dromio of Ephesus, servant to his master, a merchant named Antipholus of Ephesus. He's played by famous American crooner turned Royal Air Force pilot Phil Sullivan (Dan Chameroy), who's hired to boost the film's ticket sales.

Monty (Bruce A. Young), second from right, marks a take by actor Brian Hallifax (Kevin Gudahl), right, as director Dudley Marsh (Ross Lehman), left, and makeup assistant Fanny (Adia Bell) look on in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's brilliant "The Comedy of Errors," running through April 16. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Along for the ride is ingénue Alice Boggs (Melanie Brezill); put-upon producer and bit player Charles Chittick (Dick); Admiral Bernard Philpot (Vinkler), the official whose favor Dudley curries to get his film made; and others, among them professional soccer player turned cameraman Monty (Young), whose soldier sons are serving at the front lines, where the mayhem is all too real.

For purists, enough of Shakespeare's play - including bits about a fretful wife, a gold chain and missing Duckets - remains. But the centerpiece of this broadly physical production is West's wry, witty adaptation, which simultaneously sends-up actors while saluting them for the joy they provide.

What a joy it is to experience these masterful performers, whose timing is as pristine as their pathos is genuine. The ideally cast Lehman and Gudahl, along with Moniz, Dick, Vinkler (brilliant in a supporting role) and the rest of the ensemble, deliver stellar comedic performances that are also unwaveringly truthful. Moreover, it's evident every one of these artists is having the time of their lives - for the last time - with Gaines at the helm.

Ross Lehman, center, plays Dudley Marsh, a filmmaker attempting to direct William Shakespeare's comedy during the 1940 London Blitz in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's "The Comedy of Errors," cleverly re-imagined as a play within a film. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Enhanced by James Noone's impressive sets, Mieka van der Ploeg's sunny costumes and sound designer Lindsay Jones' subtle Foley effects, Gaines' final “Comedy” is an altogether charming conclusion to her noteworthy Chicago Shakes tenure, which began in 1986 on the rooftop of a Lincoln Park pub with a production of “Henry V,” whose first words were spoken by Young.

His character utters the play's last words, a final farewell to one of Chicago's most important and enduring theater artists, a faithful steward of Shakespeare's canon who left her audiences laughing ... and wanting more.

Location: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, (312) 595-5600,

Showtimes: 1 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through April 16. Also 7:30 p.m. April 4 and 11 and 1 p.m. April 13

Running time: About 2 hours, 40 minutes, with intermission

Tickets: $35-$92

Parking: $21 in the Navy Pier garage with CST validation

Rating: For most audiences

COVID-19 precautions: Masks optional

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