The linchpin for the action in "Wild Oats" is an idealistic actor by the name of Jack Rover who cannot help but quote Shakespeare at the drop of a hat - perhaps because Willy the Shake is far more articulate than the itinerant thespian.
"Wild Oats," with its dazzling language, was the most successful of O'Keefe's more than 60 plays, and was popular well into the next century. The play disappeared from the radar until it was performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1976.
Director Stephanie Shine and her large cast provide a frothy frolic with impeccable comedic timing - an engaging antidote to winter drizzle and tough economic times.
As in a typical Shakespearean comedy, mistaken identities abound, the plot intricately interweaves the characters' fates and their plans are confounded at every turn.
The story is set in motion by James Dean, as Sir George Thunder, who is navigating a plan to marry his son, Harry, to George's wealthy and attractive niece, Lady Amaranth. What Sir George doesn't know is that Harry, played by Kelland Lindsey, is playing truant from school to gallivant about the countryside with a group of actors.
The trouble throttles up when Jack Rover, portrayed by Jason Cottle, impersonates his friend Harry. Jack is the antithesis of the untrustworthy actor, a man so honest and likeable that he seldom fails to charm whomever he meets.
With a face and body that seem made of rubber and a no-holds-barred actor's approach, Cottle's Jack instantaneously morphs emotionally and physically into whichever Shakespearean character he is quoting. In one of the funniest physical bits in the production, Cottle wields his elbow like a sword.
One of the standouts in the cast is Keith Hitchcock as John Dory, the gruff and ever-thirsty seaman servant to Sir George Thunder. Hitchcock is as eloquent when he turns his back on Sir George and Harry and marches silently out of the room as any words of affronted anger.
Another crowd-pleaser is Brandon Whitehead in the role of the unctuous Ephraim Smooth, a Quaker with the unrequited hots for young Jane, portrayed by Dodie Montgomery.
A carefully controlled man, Smooth's asides are drawn from him by his lust, against his will, dropping a word at a time like stones into a pond. And we can hardly wait to see the underhanded move into which the ripples will carry him. When Ephraim's seduction attempt is interrupted, it's an invisible, but entertainingly tangible effort, for him to pull himself together.
In contrast, the broad, vaudevillian mugging of some of the actors grew a bit wearisome by the play's end and did not fit the style of the rest of the cast. On occasion, the players' accents or the shifty acoustics garbled the dialogue.
The choreographed scene changes to Mark Lund's baroque musical selections are some of the best staging in the production. As the bit players move the set and props about, their cavorting ranges from ballet leaps to a full belly flop onto wheeled furniture.
"Wild Oats" is being performed by the Seattle Shakespeare Company at the Center House Theatre, located in the lower level of the Center House, 305 Harrison St., at the Seattle Center, Thursdays-Sundays through Feb. 3. Tickets: $10-$24. Information: 325-6500, all TicketWindow locations or www.ticketwindowonline.org.