A trio of theatrical houses in Raleigh have joined together to bring us a night of circus thrills and high-handed comedy in Raleigh Little Theatre’s Stephenson Amphitheatre. RLT brings the stage, Bare Theatre brings the laughter, and Cirque de Vol Studios brings the thrills as we gather under the stars for Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Joining the folks of Bare are a gathering of talent not often seen on Triangle stages; the show’s director, G. Todd Buker, has invited the folks at Raleigh’s Cirque de Vol to join them, both as a prelude to the show and as an intregal part of it.

The Stephenson Amphitheatre has been turned into the big top for the show; the familiar high-rising tent takes center stage, as red and white silks drape gracefully from an apex high above the stage. Also in evidence for the evening is a quartet of torches set high above the audience. These torches not only lend a feeling of warmth and light to the evening; each one is equipped with a jet of air that sends a flame blazing into the night sky on cue. These four jets are used to emphasize the action onstage. The circus atmosphere is supplemented by the presence of several food trucks in the parking lot, which provide a number of delectable items that can be consumed during the show’s preamble. The combination of flame, food, and fun creates a great circus ambience.

Promptly at 7:30, Cirque de Vol’s Emcee, Adam Dipert, appears to introduce us to the evening’s festivities. An octet of circus performers brings to the stage everything you might expect under the big top, including snake charmer Mundi Broda, aerial silks dancers Robin Bryant and Bonnye Talbot, hoop and fire dancer Sara Phoenix, and trapeze performer Carlie Huberman. The intimacy of the performance draws the audience down to the center of the amphitheater, as fire-eaters and hoop dancers draw oohs and ahhs from the crowd. Once the preshow has concluded, however, do not expect these skilled performers to disappear; the cast of Cirque de Vol make up the denizens of Ephesus, the setting for Shakespeare’s shenanigans in The Comedy of Errors.

Shakespeare’s iconic The Comedy of Errors seems to lend itself well to a big top atmosphere. As Antipholus of Syracuse (Brian Fisher) is dropped unceremoniously into Ephesus, a sideshow-like atmosphere develops as he begins to encounter so many people who seem to know him. He has come, along with his manservant Dromio (Chuck Keith), to feel that everything is surreal, that he is in a game that everyone but he knows, at his expense. This feeling becomes startling reality when he discovers that he has a wife, Adriana (Rebecca Blum), and that he is expected “home” immediately for dinner.

The ongoing case of mistaken identity is what makes The Comedy of Errors so comical; it also makes for great fun as Antipholus and Dromio begin to encounter the citizens of Ephesus. To them, these unusual individuals are passing strange, and as Antipholus of Ephesus (Seth Blum) begins to meet people he knows who are acting strange themselves, the comedy is doubled. Suffice it to say, there is great comedy, great slapstick, and great confusion as these two sets of twins bumble their way through what turns out to be a very enlightening day. Dromio of Ephesus (Matt Gore) encounters himself opposite a locked door as epithets and threats are exchanged by two men who have no idea that there are, in fact, two of them.

Bare Theatre draws down Shakespeare’s lengthy comedy to a scant two hours, which is bisected by Cirque de Vol’s Fire Show at intermission. Sword Dancing, hoop dancing, and juggling are all augmented by the presence of flame, and the danger is well controlled by Cirque’s extremely talented performers.

The combination of the two is a show that no other can rival, and it is the perfect introduction to the summer season of theater in the Triangle. The atmosphere is electric, the audience is enamored, and the cast is charged with an energy that flows right off the stage. The ensemble cast of The Comedy of Errors mingles and gels with the cast of Cirque, and the resulting mix is highly enjoyable and probably unparalleled. The show is a great way to introduce the little ones to Shakespeare, in that the setting of the circus makes the fare all that much more accessible to them.

The combination of outdoor theater, big top atmosphere, and well-handled Shakespearean comedy makes this encounter one that you will perhaps never see again, and one that will make you laugh out loud. If you love theater, love the circus, or both, you will have a high time at this uniquely hilarious presentation. Gather up your friends, your family, and your appetite, and make a night of it. This is a show you will not see the like of again.

The Comedy of Errors continues at Stephenson Amphitheatre through June 1.  For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.