Even during a nagging heat wave, the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival provides two awfully good reasons to embrace the elements — kinetic outdoor productions of "The Comedy of Errors," by the ensemble's namesake; and "Scapin," by Moliere. Both plays, performed on a meadow behind the Evergreen Museum and Library and running through Aug. 1, feature the same ensemble of finely honed actors.
The Moliere farce from 1671 concerns the knavish title character, whose inventive schemes help two pairs of lovers — Octave and Hyacinth, Leander and Zerbinette — achieve their marital plans despite paternal objections. It's about as substantive as whipped cream, but it sure is fun, especially in the adaptation by Bill Irwin and Mark O'Donnell, which gooses the humor with some cheeky flights of verbal fancy (movie dialogue pops up with a vengeance).
The staging by Michael Carleton, the company's artistic director, seizes on the comic possibilities and stirs in his own flourishes, generating a winning level of pure silliness ( Benny Hill's spirit may be sensed in some of the shtick) and seemingly effortless effervescence from the cast. Allison Campbell's simple set neatly serves the plot's rapid flow; shuttered windows come in handy for "Laugh-In"-like one-liners.
In an especially winning performance, James FitzGerald plays Scapin with terrific verbal and physical reflexes that call to mind Martin Short at his most dynamic. Speaking of Short, his Ed Grimley character could be a cousin to Brendan Ragan's goofy, funny Octave. And an impressive elasticity marks Peter Mark Kendall's portrayal of Leander — think Hugh Laurie in his "Jeeves and Wooster" days.
Gina Alvarado makes a wise-cracking, zany Zerbinette, and Eva Wilhelm has a breezy romp as Hyacinth. Mark Krawczyk, as Octave's valet, Sylvestre, gets in some great comic licks, especially when the character experiences an unexpected "Taxi Driver" moment. Peter Boyer (Geronte), Mary Werntz (Nerine) and Matthew R. Wilson (Argante) complete the cast in stylish form.
I'm not sold on the way the actors pronounce "Scapin," but everything else clicks persuasively. A production that can slip in Beyonce's "Put a Ring on It" and the vintage movie theater jingle "Let's All Go to the Lobby" is on the right, manic track.
This week, "Scapin" will be performed Wednesday and Thursday; "The Comedy of Errors" returns Friday through Sunday. "Scapin" will also be performed eight more times through Aug. 1 on the grounds of Evergreen Museum and Library, 4545 N. Charles St. For ticket info, call 410-366-8596 or go to baltimoreshakespeare.org.