Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 8, 2015

Attention: Shakespeare Purists!

Lenox, MA
through August 23, 2015
by Shera Cohen

To you, Shakespeare Purists (I had been one of your members until recently), don’t even think about wasting your time and money going to Shakespeare & Company. For the rest, this summer’s productions offer “The Comedy of Errors” and “Henry V” -- plays that are about as distant from each other in plot, characters, mood, and message than any two plays by Shakespeare (or anyone, for that matter) can be. Similar, is execution of both are exceptional even by Shakespeare & Company’s high standards. However, these productions do not “look” like Shakespeare intended them. His Elizabethan words are all there and the characters’ personalities populate the stage, but not much else, particularly in “Comedy.”

William Shakespeare’s work for the theatre basically fall into three categories:
  • Comedies - all main characters live happily ever after.
  • Dramas - nearly all of the main characters die.
  • Histories - some live, some die, all are altered looks at real historical personalities and events.
Let’s look at some specific differences between “Comedy of Errors” (obviously in the comedy genre) and “Henry V” (history).

Photo by Enrico Spada
“Errors” relies on silly pratfalls, boisterous characters, and salacious text. This is your typical Shakespearean comedy with mistaken identities, twins, love triangles, and rubber chickens. Here’s where purists might be aghast -- “Errors” is updated to a resort beach in 2015.


“Henry” relies more on the drama of combat and religion, leadership and mission, and right and wrong as defined from different viewpoints during decades of wars between England and France. “Henry” is true history with a Shakespearean slant.

Shakes & Co. mounts plays in numerous venues on their campus and throughout Lenox. The large mainstage (Tina Packer Playhouse) is the perfect location for “Errors.” Equally, the intimate Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre’s stage permits “Henry’s” actors quick and easy entrances and exits and costume changes as each depicts multiple roles. An explanation of these Bare Bard Series’ productions is that (in “Henry”) eight actors portray 27 characters. Sounds like a difficult task and director’s nightmare. Perhaps it is. Yet, Shakes & Co. pros make the transitions look effortless. Sets are quite bare as well.

I have seen a crop of newbies (new actors to this venue) than in years past in significant “Error” and “Henry” roles. Super jobs. At the same time, the troupe’s tried and true actors come front and center; i.e. Jonathan Croy, David Joseph, Jennie Jadow, Malcolm Ingram, and Michael Toomey. It’s a tough job, but I must single out a couple of  performers, each in lead roles; i.e. Ryan Winkles (“Henry”) whose dramatic panache equals this comedy chops where I have primarily seen him work, and Aaron Bartz (“Errors”) whose rubber body punches up the verbal jokes to provide more laughter than even expected.

Kudos to directors Taibi Magar and Jenna Ware, “Errors” and “Henry,” respectively, for revving up the pacing to rocket speed and guiding actors to define each multiple role so distinctly that there is never any doubt as to who is who.

So many backstage pros create unique costumes, lighting, sets, and sound. The neon colors “Errors” compare with the deep brown, blacks, and shadows of “Henry.”

I ask that the Purists take a chance and experience at least one of Shakespeare’s 38 - 40 (no one is sure) in an updated or “odd” version at Shakespeare & Company or at any other theatre. You can later email and thank me.

“The Comedy of Errors” and “Henry V” both run until August 23, 2015.  For information, check