A&E Season Preview 2023 – 2024: Mardi Gras Shakespeare
Hamlet as a beatnik. The Tempest as a David Bowie tribute. A production of Henry V set in Vietnam. Romeo and Juliet as lovers on opposite sides of the Civil War. Twelfth Night imagined on a desert island, with all the players dressed in Bermuda shorts.
Theatrical companies who perform Shakespeare are always coming up with ways to modernize the Bard, sometimes successfully – Romeo as a Yank and Juliet as a rebel sounds promising – and sometimes not so much.
Then there’s Orlando Shakes’ The Comedy of Errors, slated for a Sept. 6-Oct. 1 run. Orlando Shakes artistic director Jim Helsinger has had its setting and time frame in his back pocket since the idea came to him a little over 20 years ago: New Orleans, during Mardi Gras.
“Shakespeare’s play takes place in a port city like New Orleans, with a lot of commerce going on, merchants coming and going, cultures clashing,” Helsinger explains. Add the background radiation of raucous music and masked revelers that populate Mardi Gras and it fits in nicely with a play that involves mistaken identity, and quite a lot of it.
The storyline features not just one but two sets of twins, with each set separated at birth, then winding up years later as confused and confusing adults who turn up concurrently in the town, causing havoc among the residents who run into the twins without ever quite figuring out how to know one set from another. Laissez les bons temps rouler, as they say in New Orleans.