THREE STOOGES SHAKESPEARE?: Hey, nobody ever said The Comedy of Errors was Hamlet.
The bay of Ephesus laps Collins Avenue in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's Latin-tinged, frisky if over-frenetic The Comedy of Errors (at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common through August 16). It is not across sands of subtlety but through a spray of salsa that the perpetrators of this 1930s-South-Beach-set riff on Shakespeare's early comedy pratfall, promenade, and fling beach balls as potential tragedy morphs into broad farce, with two sets of identical twins repeatedly mistaken for each other. The confusion continues to the point where you half-expect the hottie lifeguard installed by director Steven Maler to rise from his perch and scream, "Don't you get it? There are two pairs of you!" But either there's sunscreen in his eyes or he, like the rest of us, must accept on faith the premise that American Repertory Theatre mainstay Remo Airaldi and Elliot Norton Award winner Larry Coen are dead ringers. (Ditto Dan Roach and Josh Stamell, who play their debonair if abusive masters.) In fact, Airaldi and Coen, despite being gotten up in beanies, bloomers, and argyles as matching as their characters' monikers, look about as much alike as any two of the Three Stooges — with whom they appear to have taken a Shakespeare tutorial.
The good news is that, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company having been cut loose by the Citi Performing Arts Center, there is free Shakespeare on the Common for these two gifted clowns to bob in and kick up a spew of laughter from the rugrats standing in for Elizabethan groundlings. The kids near me were delighted by all the n'yuk-n'yuk bopping, spanking, and berating allotted the childlike servants by their own and each other's masters, twin aristocrats separated, along with their hapless minions, in a shipwreck shortly following their mutual nativity. Me, I was delighted that Maler, forming a new board and raising a modest $300,000, was able to keep free Shakespeare afloat and sail it down to South Beach in the era of Al Capone.
The further good news is that the production does not look as if it had been procured from Budget Rental. Played out against Jon Savage's multi-level aquamarine Art Deco skyline, it's brightly, nattily costumed by David Israel Reynoso, with Antipholus of Ephesus's wife, Adriana, and her sister, Luciana, bedecked in ruffly, diaphanous pinks and corals so fetching I wished I'd been alive and shopping in the 1930s. If only the vocal performances of Jennifer Ellis and Zofia Gozynska were as light and pleasing as their dresses. The platinum-wigged Gozynska vacillates charmingly between affront and arousal when being romanced by the Antipholus she believes to be her brother-in-law, but both women are shrill. More sonorous are the men, particularly Fred Sullivan Jr. as the captured father of the Antipholuses, authoritatively rendering the lengthy exposition, and Dmetrius Conley-Williams as an elegant gangster duke with a ready ear for a sob story.
The Comedy of Errors, with its roots in Plautus and Goldoni, is not about much — unless you want to ponder the nature and fragility of identity while watching Airaldi charge like a donkey or Coen take an ice-cream cone in the face. (And I defy the staunchest existentialist to do so while Coen is describing in transfixed terror the mammoth kitchen wench who has tried to ensnare him in her greasy embrace.) But the production is as stylish as it is silly, starting off with a soigné frolic featuring dancing, dinner jackets, and an haute lass who takes to the boardwalk with an accompanying greyhound, the two apparently locked in a sleekness contest. The lady and the dog make regular appearances as part of a syncopated screwball pageant that separates Shakespeare's acts and features, among other flourishes, boogieing bootleggers, nuns on bikes, and a Latin beat. This Comedy of Errors may be the Bard at the point of Shakespeare in Love's Romeo andEthel, the Pirate's Daughter. But taking it in on a balmy eve is no mistake.