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N Ca Edith Clever and Bruno Ganz in HAMLET GrUber disturbed the fault lines of the play itself. It is difficult to know how to take the end. The body count stands at nine, a revenge drama to end all revenge dramas. Is Hamlet the finest exemplar of a tradition that transcends its own conventions, or is it a send-up? Both readings are possible in this multi-layered, paradoxical text. Is Hamlet Shakespeare's ultimate statement of the ability of art to transmute human suffering into exaltant human language? "And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, to tell my story." Or is it Shakespeare's confession of the futility of art? GrUber's production poses difficult questions, and poses them intelligently. That I finally found the second half of the production less interesting than the first reflects my own personal taste. I prefer great tragedy to secondrate comedy. THE COMEDY OF ERRORS William Shakespeare Directed by Robert Woodruff The Goodman Theatre (Chicago) Arthur Holmberg Like all new comedy, Shakespeare's first play takes place on the age-old city street with one exit leading to the forum and the other to the port. What makes the main drag of Ephesus look slightly different in this postmodern, neo-vaudeville production are the twenty-two apertures (doors, windows, 52 balconies, peep holes, and cuckoo clocks) that perforate its sun-bleached walls. In shuffles Avner the Eccentric, a woe-faced clown, tricked out with red bowler, red shoes, red nose. He sweeps cigarette butts off the street and dumps them into a trap door, and The Comedy of Errors gets going with a fifteen minute schtick based on the zany's inability to bring together in close proximity one Camel cigarette with one Diamond match. The opening routine, which ends with Avner's taking a polaroid snapshot of the audience (a cross-reference to Katherine Hepburn's holy wrath), enables latecomers to arrive comfortably before anything happens. But what does all this have to do with Shakespeare (who pops up through the trap door to protest the cigarette in his ear)? Not much. In l.i Adriana, the spitfire, and Luciana, the angel in the house, tap dance their way through iambic pentameter, and one of the play's most important verbal exchanges gets lost in the nervous ratatatat of a Ruby Keller-Eleanor Powell number. When Dromio returns home empty-handed (no wayward husband in tow), he cannot resist the temptation to improve on Shakespeare 's verse: " 'I know,' quoth he, 'no house, no wife, no mistress, no way!'," changing the line into hexameter and violating Hamlet's judicious advice to the players: "Let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them." Self-conscious cuteness masquerading as vis comica characterize the Goodman's attempt to fuse Shakespeare with Barnum. Each verbal pun called forth a sophomoric visual gag. When Dromio complains that his masters spurn him "like a football," flash go the lights, pop goes the whistle and, to the rousing strains of the Notre Dame Victory March, out struts a Big Ten huddle. But what does all this have to do with Shakespeare? Not much. During the course of a single evening the ambidextrous cast offered up a music hall spectacle of unflagging energy: daredevil tightrope walkers, beautiful trapeze artistes, prodigious jugglers, formidable feats of baton twirling, and world-class roller skaters. But what does all this have to do with Shakespeare? Not much. But wait. There are incidental diversions to be had if one is patient. Alex Willows self-divides vertically in two as Angelo on the right side (blond Afro, androgynous harlequin) and the Second Merchant on the left (black leather, macho punk). The mimic carries off a remarkable tour de force as he haggles with himself over who would pay whom first. And Avner the Eccentric impersonating Dr. Pinch, the cantankerous school master, as a pint-sized midget in a Punch and Judy show, deservedly reduced the audience to gurgles of laughter. Shakespeare made no more fitting comment on academia , and this bit of stage business demonstrates how one can indeed "jolly up the text" without destroying its...


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