THE ROARING GIRL, Shakespeare's Motley Crew, at Bailiwick Repertory. Lean, playful, witty, and energetic, Jeremy Wechsler and Penny Penniston's not particularly faithful adaptation of Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker's 1611 play suggests what might have happened if William Shakespeare and Alexandre Dumas had joined forces to create a vehicle for Mae West. This comic swashbuckler takes place in the raucous alehouses of 17th-century London, where the title character--a ferociously independent and sexually liberated thief and con artist--is enlisted to help trick a nobleman into allowing his son to marry a frumpy but lovable barmaid. Wechsler and Penniston have run the original play through a Cuisinart, replaced old, unintelligible jokes with new, fairly amusing ones, and imposed a mild late-20th-century feminist sensibility on the material to create a surprisingly seamless period comedy.
The result is filled with splendidly choreographed swordplay, memorably humorous characters, and witty, bawdy dialogue, all directed by Wechsler with split-second precision. But though the execution is flawless and the performances are proficient, one wonders whether the effort put into this production has been worth it. Middleton produced works of lasting value that are rarely if ever performed, but staging The Roaring Girl is more a triumph of craft than of poetry--this is less a work of literary importance than a well-constructed framework for Ned Mochel's excellent fight choreography. There's no disputing the talent on display here, but the final product remains essentially frivolous. --Adam Langer