THE COMEDIE OF ERRORS, Velvet Willies, at Hi Ricky Upstairs--West Loop. Virtually indestructible, this early work--Shakespeare's shortest play--is the ur-comedy of mistaken identities and family reunions. The Bard adds poetry to Plautus's preposterous machinery: two sets of identical twins, servants and masters, are entangled in a plot involving a bag of gold. The only way the story's contrived complications can be resolved is by introducing additional miraculous coincidences.
Ideally this comedy would be produced with two pairs of identical twins--the point is to confuse the audience as much as the citizens of Ephesus. Though these performers are decidedly collegiate, their peppy, minimal production keeps the manic energy high: they plow ahead so relentlessly that we never wonder at the improbability of it all.
Given the tiny stage upstairs at Hi Ricky, Jeff Harnish's staging is as much about traffic control as artistic interpretation. His gift is to make the servants genuinely funny. A miracle of perpetual motion, David Bendena's athletic Dromio of Syracuse is all double joints and plucky masochism, while Scott Allen, playing the brother from Ephesus, mugs up a storm in rubber-faced, Stooge-worthy reactions. Always less interesting than their masters, the Antipholi--Elizabeth Bagby and Joseph Stearns--are efficient here but all too distinguishable: the gender-bending casting suggests Twelfth Night, not The Comedy of Errors.