Klutz in a Name? To find his identity, Ion navigates a comedy of errors.

As luck—or maybe the Fates—would have it, I missed Shakespeare Theatre’s opening night for Ion while vacationing in Turkey, where I visited an ancient theater in Ephesus at which Euripides’ odd little tragicomedy almost certainly played back in the first century B.C. Ethan McSweeny’s production would look terrific there, with designer Rachel Hauck’s artfully aged Greek columns aping those in nearby temples. In that open-air amphitheater, Aubrey Deeker’s folksily agile Hermes couldn’t make his entrance Cirque du Soleil–style, slithering down from the heavens via a bolt of orange silk, but once on stage, he’d be right at home, chattering away about temple protocol and introducing the unassuming title character. Keith Eric Chappelle’s Ion would also seem very much in his element, sweeping up Apollo’s temple, shooing away the odd gull (they’re everywhere at Ephesus), and wondering what his name is (he was adopted as a foundling by the temple attendants) while awaiting visitors. When five of them show up—a Greek chorus attired as photo-snapping tourists—they’d look right, too, albeit right for a different millennium. And there you have McSweeny’s method. Using an adaptation by David Lan that tones down the classical by keeping it conversational, the director tells this tale of a family reunion that almost wasn’t, rife with untrustworthy gods and insecure mortals, as if nothing could be more natural. Yes, a flying goddess will drop in for some deus-ex-machinations, but hey, that happens in Angels in America, too. The key to this down-to-earth approach is the playing: Nothing remotely highfalutin about Sam Tsoutsouvas’ business-suited King or Lisa Harrow’s harrowingly angst-ridden queen, even when she decides to poison someone who gets in her way. Their plain speech and plainer emotions about the child she’s given up, and the one he may never have, come through as clearly as if they were sitting on a living room set. Their tale is plenty Oedipal, the telling matter-of-fact: Gods lie, mortals scheme, and fate takes over as fate so often does. All of which does the job the adaptor and director clearly have in mind, making Euripides’ play as accessible as anyone might wish. Smart, capable work all around. That said, having made Ion’s acquaintance, audiences will be forgiven for concluding there’s a reason they’d not previously heard of him.