In these days of over-amplification, it's refreshing to find Shakespeare still unplugged in the Publick Theatre's ''The Comedy of Errors," now playing in a leafy bower on the banks of the Charles. And if this is hardly the most divine ''Comedy" I've encountered, it's still a sturdy version that offers plenty of al fresco pleasure.
''The Comedy of Errors" is almost certainly Shakespeare's first comedy, which the nascent genius modeled on a farce by Plautus (also the source of Stephen Sondheim's ''A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"). Of course the Bard added flourishes to this classic tale of twins continually mistaken for each other; he not only twinned the twins (each now has an identical servant), but threw in a romantic subplot, a shipwreck, and other contrivances that would later become his trademarks. In fact, the buds of much of the canon lie curled within the fierce little seed that's ''The Comedy of Errors."
Director Diego Arciniegas is clearly aware of all the foreshadowing in this knockabout farce, and he emphasizes one theme in particular, the sexist marital politics that fully flower in ''The Taming of the Shrew." But his ''Comedy" is the least physically inventive of any I've seen; in fact, at times it looks underrehearsed. The show meets the minimum hijinks requirement, but just barely; in particular, the two servants of the two masters (both servants are named Dromio, both masters Antipholus -- yes, twins with the same names and clothes) could definitely up the antic ante.
Still, there's a lot of talent at the Publick these days, and if this ''Comedy" never scales the comedic heights, it maintains a comfortable cruising altitude. The women (nicely turned out in Lucy Ricardo-meets-Fellini skirts) are particularly strong: Carolyn Lawton is a standout as the frustrated Adriana, wife to the more loutish Antipholus of Ephesus (the capable Bill Mootos), and newcomer Joy Lamberton makes a charming vixen to Lawton's virago as a very available little sister.
Meanwhile Lewis Wheeler, as the visiting Antipholus of Syracuse (who's searching for his twin, but never puts two and two together, as it were) is a bit too smooth for his own good; he gives Shakespeare's flights of lyricism full wing, but a romantic melancholy should inform more of his performance. Elsewhere Ellen Adair and Susanne Nitter do sharp comic turns, but Nigel Gore, who's got Shakespearean chops to burn, seems in a trance. Once he and the Dromios (Steven Libby and Harry LaCoste) loosen up, this ''Comedy" should nicely surmount its current errors.