In a breezy, colorful Theatre 40 production, Leon Katz's "The Three Cuckolds" tackles a daunting challenge: blending traditional commedia dell'arte with contemporary sensibilities.
The freewheeling, semi-improvisational feel of street theater is almost inevitably compromised in a formal stage presentation with a meticulously crafted script, though Katz's naturalistic dialogue eases the transposition.
But it's Barbara Keegan's strikingly accomplished performance that elevates this adaptation of a sometimes labored bedchamber farce into a sterling example of the commedia form. As Arlecchino (an Italian variant of the archetypal clown Harlequin), Keegan plays an engaging androgynous trickster who plays on the foibles of three neighbors--each lusting after one of the others' wives--to engineer his own trysts with their spouses.
Under Howard Teichman's nicely paced direction, the three comically masked husbands (Charlie Dell, Daniel Leslie and Harry Singleton), their wives (Jane Longenecker, Jennifer Williams and Amy Tolsky) and a stray seducer (Michael Craig) also acquit themselves handsomely with the genre's stylized gestures and exaggerated emotions.
Ironically, though, the strongest sequence is Arlecchino's uncharacteristically somber monologue on existence and mortality, which Keegan delivers with the finesse of a "Hamlet" soliloquy. It just goes to show that, in the right hands, the broadest satirical style can be used in the service of infinite subtlety.
* "The Three Cuckolds," Theatre 40, Beverly Hills High School campus, 241 Moreno Drive. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Dark July 4. Ends July 12. $15-$18. (818) 789-8499. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.