Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity can trace elements of its storyline back to Plautus' The Brothers Menechmi, but director Drew Shirley's robustly farcical production of the play offers just as much of a debt of gratitude to Bozo the Clown and the Super Mario Brothers. Antipholus of Syracuse (the gymnastic Mark Schroeder) and his slave Dromio (Cy Brown) arrive in Ephesus for a visit and are immediately mistaken for their long-lost twins (Roger Stewart and Jesse Sharp, respectively). Antipholus of Syracuse is given a golden necklace and invited to a pleasant dinner with his sexy wife, Adriana (Caity Engler), while Antipholus of Ephesus is subjected to beatings, accused of theft and locked out of his own house. Before all can be made clear, there are many pratfalls, Three Stooges-esque acts of “nyuk-nyuk-nyuk”-ery and Keystone Kops-like chases. The pacing feverishly crackles, with the performers milking the dialogue for every mugging opportunity, spit-take and leering innuendo. You can tell everyone is having a great time as the mood mixes Shakespearean eloquence with frenetic groping and mummery worthy of Benny Hill. Many of the gags demonstrate both cast and director's assured comic sensibility — for instance, shtick involving Greyson Lewis' creepy executioner (who might just be the same character as the sultry courtesan) is hilarious. Elsewhere, though, the lack of an editorial eye to temper the endless reflexive jokes suggests a lack of faith in the original text. Nevertheless, elements such as joyfully agile turns by the likable Schroeder, by Stewart as his more uptight brother and by Engler as Antipholus of Ephesus' ferocious shrew of a wife allow this to coalesce into a wonderfully clear and accessible production. Outdoor deck of the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Wed., Sat.-Sun., 7 p.m. (no perf Sept. 10); through Sept. 24, powerhousetheatre.com.
Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: Sept. 3. Continues through Sept. 24, 2011
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