What’s the ultimate male fantasy? Not the mystical “threesome” that immediately springs to mind, nor the close runner-up, a triple-decker bacon-cheeseburger pizza that transforms into a ‘68 Charger. (I’m cribbing from my dream journal here.) No, the ultimate male fantasy is to be an innocent victim of circumstance. It’s the common theme of nearly every escapist entertainment targeted at the Y chromosome, starting with The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s original one-crazy-weekend pitch.
In a new production recently docked at BAM, Britain’s all-male Propeller troupe — who created, among other things, the testosterone-injected Henry VI remix Rose Rage — don’t scrimp on the high-speed puerility and barreling slaphappiness: Invoking Benny Hill and the Three Stooges, these “unruly boys” (often doubling as exasperated girls) plunge through Shakespeare’s thinnest and earliest comedy as if it were a Double Dare obstacle course. (The color scheme and milieu are similarly Nickelodeous: Shakespeare’s Ephesus, a town “full of cozenage” and “nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,” is transformed by Propeller vision into a resort ghetto strewn with Xmas lights and colorful trash: Tijuana-meets-Blackpool in the back of a Mexican restaurant.)
Errors is by far the Bard’s most contingency-driven play, a dude’s paradise of fault-free “mishaps.” Every unfair accusation of wrongdoing, especially sexual wrongdoing, is answerable with a perfectly honest, perfectly reasonable (if highly improbable) explanation. Two sets of identical twins (both with the name of Antipholus), each with no knowledge of his doppelgänger’s existence, create endless mischief for the other, especially when wives, girlfriends, and goldsmiths get involved. Nearly every piece of meaningful action is motivated by misunderstanding, not by character. Our two hot-blooded Antipholus (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Sam Swainsbury) and their bumbling slaves, both named Dromio (Richard Frame and Jon Trenchard) are buffoons, but blameless ones. Errors is all action and circumstantial conflict, and the Propeller fellers respond in kind with chockablock sight gags, sound effects, fart jokes, and pratfalls. Nobody stands still long enough to make his character more than a pose. (An exception is David Newman’s Luciana, the defiant bachelorette who finds her true love amid the twin-swapping confusion. P.S.: She’s also good with nunchaku. ’Cause, y’know, somebody needs to be.)
And anyway, rich interior lives aren’t what this troupe is fishing for: This is a show about squeaky leather pants, silly sombreros, and plentiful nyuk-nyuk-knuckle sandwiches for whichever Dromio happens to be within swatting range. (Frame and Trenchard both hit the deck like champs.) The Propeller Comedy of Errors is sumptuous if slightly exhausting fun — a boys’ night out that just won’t quit. Buzzkills might call it little more than a high-spirited college drag show on Red Bull and vodka, and what if it is? It’s still a hell of a lot more fun than Hall Pass.
Through March 27 at BAM’s Harvey Theater.