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'The Comedy of Errors' review: A rowdy, rough Bard revival

David Ryan Smith stars in

David Ryan Smith stars in "The Comedy of Errors," directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah and running at The Public Theater. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Straight from Rikers Island and the Queensboro Correctional Facility, it's Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors"!

In recent years, the Public Theater has supplemented its summertime Shakespeare in the Park offerings (which require theatergoers to wait on long lines for free tickets) in Central Park with the Mobile Shakespeare Unit, which brings stripped-down productions of Shakespeare dramas to prisons, homeless shelters and community centers. Following the tour, the productions receive a short Off-Broadway run.

Whereas the unit originally focused on Shakespeare plays dealing with heavy themes of injustice and criminality, "The Comedy of Errors" is a knockabout farce where two sets of long-lost twins are reunited after a great deal of mistaken identity and confusion. As the classic 1941 film "Sullivan's Travels" showed, comedy can do a lot more good for people experiencing hard times than serious drama.

Kwame Kwei-Armah's seven-actor, in-the-round production is set on the border of Mexico and Texas, with one set of twins sneaking past border control guards. The twins of each city (played by the same actors) are easily distinguished by having one set speak with southern accents and wear cowboy hats. In a nod to current politics, the local duke carries a fan with a picture of Donald Trump's face on it.

The performances vary in quality, and the comedic bits occasionally become too exaggerated, but its rough, rowdy and youthful tone is a testament to the accessibility promoted by this worthy enterprise.

If you go: "The Comedy of Errors" plays at the Public Theater through Nov. 22. 425 Lafayette St., publictheater.org.

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