Here’s a fun idea: Set “The Comedy of Errors” in 1920s New Orleans — Shakespeare in the Jazz Age. You get music, dancing and a general licentiousness to supplement an endless series of mistaken identities. The opportunities for mischief are virtually endless.
And this is a play that thrives on mischief. Consider the ridiculous story. There are two sets of identical twins — one from Ephesus (i.e., New Orleans) and one from Syracuse. To complicate matters, each set has the same name and job title: Antipholus (Glenn Howerton), the masters, and Dromio (Rory O’Malley), the servants.
The situation gets weirder as Antipholus of Syracuse — the out-of-towner — tries to puzzle out why total strangers are treating him like he’s their best friend. Meanwhile, Antipholus of Ephesus becomes enraged when his wife unwittingly locks him out of the house in favor of his mystified twin.
And then there are the Dromios, who are beaten repeatedly for losing money they never had or neglecting an errand they were never assigned. No one has any clue what’s happening.
Yes, this is silly, and only Shakespeare could make it sustain an entire play. But Scott Ellis and company rely heavily on the music to propel the story and provide a little extra backbone. The band offers punctuation, counterpoint and pleasant interludes. Add the dancing and singing — including a saucy number from a courtesan (Garth Schilling in drag) — and the show works on multiple levels.
The cast is excellent, particularly Howerton as the Antipholi and O’Malley as the Dromios. Austin Durant plays Doctor Pinch, a faith healer in this production, and although Shakespeare purists might take exception to his Ernest Angley shtick, it’s a lot of fun.
The details on Alexander Dodge’s set are truly wonderful, providing the galleries and other architectural devices so emblematic of New Orleans. A spiral staircase all but screams chase scene.
“The Comedy of Errors” is a silly, one-gag show, but the Globe finds ways to fill the gaps. The end result is big fun and surprisingly joyous.