Sitcom the first, thou may’est have been!
The Comedy of Errors at The Shakespeare Tavern
So, the birthday of a beloved family member comes 'round and you want to do something new enough not to be cliché but familiar enough to ensure it will be a good time, with no danger of being perceived -- a gag gift, like the yoga gym membership given to your bloated, chain smoking aunt who only wears flip-flops, even to church. Last year, for just such an occasion, we accompanied my brother to The New American Shakespeare Tavern ("Shakespeare Tavern", for short I guess) and had a fantastic time at the performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". So it was the perfect setup for a re-dux this year to take in the hilarity that is Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors".
Unlike the good ole TV, or summer blockbusters on the silver screen, the theater delves into storytelling in true 3-D; endowing characters and circumstance with a certain immediacy, breathing into them real life since, well, they are really alive, right there in your space with you. Or more appropriately, allowing your watchful presence right there in their space. It is an intimate, unmitigated experience of the story, with each character's pathos, each circumstance's tragedy, irony, sardonic or mirth split out just at arm's length, in real time. The pliability of it, the realness of it, even though you know it is all scripted and acted, draws you in. There is something irresistible about it. And even centuries beyond him, Shakespeare's name still looms forth as an unparalleled master of the theatrical stage play.
A 30 minute drive from anywhere, as is anyplace in Atlanta, could lead you to 499 Peachtree Street, and the slightly urbane-Renaissance edifice of the Shakespeare Tavern, heralded by its prominent, red wormwood sign. One side note: Parking is located conveniently less than a half-minute's walk from the theatre, just avoid the police-haunted madman who will attempt, in turns, to help you understand the parking payment kiosk, then wanna-whup-yo' ass from a sudden and unpredicted indignation before wandering off, protesting to the open air. At least that's what happened the Saturday we were there. Like I said; the theatre: Palpable, immediate and unmitigated. All parking adventures aside, once you traverse its heavy oaken door and descend the time-polished wooden steps; once you have bandied conversation with the attendant bar keep and ware hocking souveniteur, you pass into the theatre proper, a low-lighted den with warm soft colors encroaching from its corners and emanating from the stage itself. This is where we were to dine, drink and make merry to quick witted quips tossed about in the gay ole tongue of Her Majesty's antiquarian England.
Original Practice Playhouse
Known as "The Bard", but just as famous for his rapier-edged quill and sense of wild frivolity, Shakespeare appreciated the tastes of the masses and tailored his stage plays to thrill and tickle audiences in turn. A master of presentation, he employed creative approaches and gimmicks to engage and hold the street-stood watchers of his day, often bridging the space between actor and audience with dialogue or antics deliberately targeted out into the crowd or at individuals, erasing the barrier and drawing them right into the atmosphere of the characters themselves. Herein lies a good measure of the Shakespeare's Tavern's charm. Touted on the placard in its foyer as an "Original Practice Playhouse" it follows an aesthetic devoted to the preservation and enjoyment of the staged works of The Bard as nearly as possible to their original presentation, with all the gags and ploys, which is all very engaging. When the going gets goofy and that invisible fourth wall disappears, it pays off.
So there we were, the fam and me, eating our renaissance cuisine and chortling like swollen royalty at the unfolding hapless misadventure that is The Comedy of Errors. Essentially, Two sets of identical twins (identically named, to boot) separated in their early childhood by forgotten shipwrecks wind up in the same town where, over the course of one day, one estranges the other's pugnacious wife and freaks out her kinder, gentler sister; one inadvertently steals expensive jewelry from the town goldsmith; one makes off with a bag of money; one becomes the terrified obsession of a monstrous kitchen maid with an unstoppable libido; almost all get condemned by the confounded mayor, whom already was pondering the considerable burden of having to unknowingly execute the father of two of them. By the end of the day, it is much ado about anything but nothing and all from a simple case of mistaken identity. Watching it all happen it occurred to me I was perhaps seeing the very first sitcom, preserved from years past and born again on a Saturday night in midtown Atlanta. Centuries whence and innumerable iterations of the same slapstick exasperation and folly spent, I couldn't help wondering if this was where, in fact, it had all begun. Shakespeare's great craft: actually a premonition of what mean satire countless hordes of couch potatoes would soak up in their living rooms over and over again. I can't say whether four hundred years of the same mistaken identity plot was what The Bard had in mind, or would even approve of, but after all this time, his language proves just as biting, wince-worthy, thought provoking and rich as ever it was. And it was all brought to life with robust beauty by the troop there at that minor Stratford on Avon, The Shakespeare Tavern, right on down to the final wrap up, with its gratuitous Scooby Doo group laugh. Nothing says Happy Birthday like a renaissance style apricot stuffed pork loin sandwich and a glimpse into the first ever sitcom, where the common tastes of the common man ruled the world of entertainment, way before the glamor of good ol' TV. Huzzah!
Check out alFalaq's latest anthology entitled, THREADBARE, which is now available for Kindle download.