You've perhaps heard the reference of attending a play as "worshiping at the temple of Thespis."
California Shakespeare Theater has amended that to "worshiping at the temple of Shecky," patron saint of shtick and slapstick, as amply illustrated by the rollicking production of "The Comedy of Errors" currently playing on the festival's outdoor stage in Orinda.
Already Shakespeare's shortest and possibly most slapstick-enfused play, "Errors," in this production, is director Aaron Posner's homage to classic rough-and-tumble comedy, with emphasis on the tumble. There's little or no time taken to explain the nuance of a pratfall. Not that any is needed; if you miss one, another will be along in a second from the slapstick all-star cast in this wildly hilarious production.
When it opened in1594, Shakespeare's play was already standing on time-tested comedy building blocks. Gimmicks include two sets of twins separated at birth, shipwrecks, horribly mistaken identities and stock characters whose bios go back to Roman times. Its story line is a series of unfortunate incidents all rolling up into a bundle of laughs.
That's especially so in this production, led by Posner, who previously helmed "The Tempest," which he co-created with Raymond Teller, of the Penn and Teller comedy magic duo.
The all-star cast for "Errors" is led by Bay Area comic treasure Danny Scheie, who plays the twin Dromios, who, several times, are both on stage at the same time. To do this, Scheie uses such deft changes as altering the angles of his hat to allow him to (impressively and hilariously) play two distinct characters.
The other set of twins, the Antipholus brothers, is played by Adrian Danzig, artistic director of Chicago's 500 Clown.
The cast is rounded out by Ron Campbell, in three roles, following a long stint with Cirque du Soleil, Patty Gallagher, Nemuna Ceesay, Tristan Cunningham and Liam Vincent.
From that group of seven, the story emerges on, over, under, around and behind the amphitheater, all of which becomes fair territory for the actors to play. A few members of the audience become props for the actors, as they grab a quick sip of coffee or perhaps plant a kiss as they clown their way toward the stage.
The set, by Nina Ball, is a series of levels, perfect for tomfoolery, with a large, multicolored backdrop, where doors and signs seem to appear and disappear from areas that become spectacular in their own plainness.
Costumes, too, by Beaver Bauer, are deceptive in their own simplicity, although, in a number of cases seem to have been influenced by vaudeville and burlesque, in homage to the much of the production's comic roots.
With "Errors," though, much of its delight comes through simple, innovative comedic acting, as the cast displays time and again how to make a huge impact from not that much at all. It is this simplicity that makes the production so impressive.
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By William Shakespeare, presented by California Shakespeare Theater
Through: July 20
Where: Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way (off Highway 24), Orinda
Running time: 2 hours, 1 intermission
Tickets: $45-$82, 510-548-9666, www.calshakes.org