Linklater’s Charms; ‘Jake’; Guare’s ‘Exiles’: Review

Gangly and dapper in a Good Humor suit, bow tie and Panama hat, Hamish Linklater charms the heck out of the customers at the Delacorte Theater.

He’s playing identical twin brothers separated at birth, Antipholuses of Ephesus and of Syracuse, in Daniel Sullivan’s big-band romp through “The Comedy of Errors.”

It’s the first offering of the Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park, to be followed by a new musical adaptation of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” beginning July 23.

Growing up with no knowledge of one another, the Antipholi have been served by similarly twin slave Dromios (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). As the play opens, the unmarried A and D of Syracuse arrive in Ephesus, where, unbeknownst to them, the married A and affianced D of Ephesus live.

Sullivan sets the action in central New York State, home to Rome, Syracuse, Troy and Utica, if no place like Ephesus. Skip Sudduth, as the Duke, and his trigger-happy entourage seem to have stepped out of Damon Runyon’s Times Square, but never mind. Emily Bergl and Heidi Schreck add levity as sisters with Antipholus on the mind (but which one?).

No Break

Performed in 90 minutes without intermission, “Comedy” also features a half-dozen athletically inclined swing dancers (choreographed by Mimi Lieber) and slouchy, sexy costumes by Toni-Leslie James. All this fun can get a little tiresome.

But the night belongs to Linklater, the best leading man we’ve had since Kevin Kline flashed sword and smile from these same boards so many years ago. As A of Ephesus he’s droll; as A of Syracuse, he’s serious business. Or is it the other way around? You sort it out.

Through June 30 at the Delacorte Theater, Central Park. Admission is free. Information: +1-212-967-7555; Rating: ***

Playing Dress-Up

No three letters can prompt fear in the hearts of ambitious Manhattan parents like E.R.B., the entrance exam required of 4-and 5-year-olds seeking admission to private school.

Daniel Pearle’s “A Kid Like Jake,” the latest from Lincoln Center Theater’s $20-per-ticket LCT3 series, is scathing on the subject.

Carla Gugino and Peter Grosz play the parents of the unseen title character, a boy who prefers playing Cinderella to the Prince and who wants to be a girl when he grows up.

That’s fine with Gugino’s obsessive Alex -- so long as such matters are kept within the home. Her friend Judy (Caroline Aaron), who is Jake’s placement advisor, thinks they should play up the boy’s idiosyncrasies.

Grosz’s Greg, a vaguely epicene, talky therapist who bores Alex (and me) to tears, suddenly sees his own masculinity questioned by the conflict that arises about how to proceed.

These excellent actors find no common ground in Evan Cabnet’s plodding production. The soap-opera beats -- the overbearing Mom scene, the pregnancy crisis scene, the can-this-marriage-survive scene -- unfold in two dimensions. Alex and Greg have what the kids today call First World Problems. Too bad.

Through July 14 at the Claire Tow Theater, Lincoln Center. Information: +1-212-239-6200; Rating: **

Alien Beings

“Elzbieta Erased,” the centerpiece of “3 Kinds of Exile,” John Guare’s moving triptych about fishes out of water, recounts the true, sad story of Polish actress Elzbieta Czyzewska. It’s all the more powerful for marking the playwright’s debut in the unconventional role of John Guare, one of the two actors telling the tale.

Czyzewska was the brightest star in the Polish acting firmament in the mid-1960s when she played the Marilyn Monroe figure in a Warsaw production of Arthur Miller’s “After the Fall.” In the opening night audience was David Halberstam, the New York Times’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam correspondent, recently deployed to the paper’s Warsaw bureau.

Smitten, Halberstam pursued the gamine, popular actress and soon they were married.

But in New York, Czyzewska’s heavy accent helped keep her in the shadows, and her life, especially after divorce from Halberstam after 11 years of marriage, was marked by bad luck, disappointment and growing reclusiveness.

Relating the episodes in fluttery detail, Guare, at 75 nearly spectral and still the great poet of the American theater, does a kind of call-and-response with Omar Sangare, veteran of a Polish production of Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation.” Sleek and dancer-like, Sangare often plays the actress, with fluidity and considerable poignance.

This story about a force of nature who loses her powers when circumstances conspire to remove her from her natural habitat is bookended by “Karel” and “Funiage,” two vastly different short pieces on a similar theme.

The Kindertransport

In the first, Martin Moran relates the Kafkaesque story of a health-impaired man who survived the Holocaust when his parents sent him to safety on the Kindertransport.

On the train he encountered a boy already hardened to the reality that he will never again see family or home. Decades later, Karel is just unraveling the consequences of that meeting.

In “Funiage,” David Pittu plays another outsider, the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz, as he tries, unsuccessfully, to make sense of Buenos Aires. All three plays are staged with finesse by Atlantic Theater Co. artistic director Neil Pepe. But this last one wore me out.

Through June 23 at the Atlantic Theater Co., 336 W. 20th St. Information: +1-866-811-4111; Rating: ***

What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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