THIEVES, Baum House, at the Athenaeum Theatre. The film Shakespeare in Love posits that, before the Bard found his muse, he was working on a play called "Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter." Brian Fagan's swashbuckling new verse comedy isn't quite that play but it comes awfully close. Fagan borrows ingredients willy-nilly from a passel of Shakespeare works--a trio of prophetic witches, a doddering king, a dead jester, siblings separated at birth, a scheming usurper to a throne, flashy swordplay, dialogue in verse. Then he tosses in dashes of Alexander Dumas, Robin Hood, and Terry Gilliam-ish and Monty Python-esque ribaldry to create what purports to be an irreverent adventure about some thieves who stumble upon a wayward princess and battle evil forces to return her to her throne.
That may sound entertaining enough, but Fagan's tongue-in-cheek pastiche is too hackneyed to be funny and too smart-assed for any of the conflicts between the characters to be engaging. The script's pretentious verse form, with its surfeit of "thees," "thous," "doths," and "wouldsts," lacks any hint of the poetic imagery that might justify it. Directing his play at a fever pitch, Fagan seems to have instructed his unseasoned but energetic cast to screech and bellow and declaim at a chandelier-shattering volume: one wouldn't be surprised if Zum Deutschen Eck, one block down, filed a noise complaint. This frivolous work has only one aftereffect--and Advil may take care of it.