St. Louis Shakespeare sows bumper crop of ‘Wild Oats’

After one conquers Shakespeare, what challenge is next for a fleet troupe of master thespians? Why a rootin’ tootin’ rip-roaring old-fashioned melodrama, “Wild Oats,” of course.

Aiming squarely to tickle your ribs, St. Louis Shakespeare has produced a daffy delight, a refreshing tonic at summer’s end, before they move on to “Twelfth Night” this fall and “Richard III” next spring as part of their 31st season.

At first glance, this zippy comedy is silly fun, but in the deft hands of director Shaun Sheley and a nimble ensemble, they turn a rollicking yarn into a polished gem.

Like the old-timey olio performances on The Goldenrod Showboat, “Wild Oats” by James McLure lends itself to broad over-the-top acting, fast-paced slapstick, and groan-worthy puns.

McClure adapted a Restoration comedy by John O’Keeffe, and it’s as goofy as an episode of ‘F Troop.” But the dialogue requires agile delivery and the action needs crackerjack timing, so it’s a pleasure to witness the performers’ great skill with those tricky tasks.

Particularly appealing is a feisty couple, Erik Kuhn as Jack Rover and Nicole Angeli as Kate Thunder. They have combustible chemistry and a winning presence – he plays a traveling actor and she’s a well-educated heiress downplaying her true personality.

Chaos ensues as her blustery uncle, Col. Thunder (John Foughty), and his trusty Indian guide Crow (John Wolbers, with an unmistakable Irish accent) roam the prairie.

The madcap plot involves mistaken identities, nefarious deceptions and robust romantics in the wild, wild west – dusty trails, hot pursuits, and lots of family shenanigans.

Having fun in supporting roles are Michael Pierce as foppish Harry Thunder, Anthony Wininger as Ike Gammon, Ashley Bauman as Jane Gammon, Chuck Winning as Slim Gammon, Jamie Lynn Eros of Belleville as mysterious Amelia, Christopher LaBanca as Ephraim, Hannah Pauluhn as Innkeeper’s daughter, Joey Combs as Morales and Angel Eyes, Brian Rolf as Sheriff and Mr. Kliege, and Brandon Riley as Muz and Marshall.

Their enthusiasm shines through the fluffiest material. Audience participation is encouraged, and the company’s efforts to entertain heighten the overall fun experience.

“Wild Oats”

Who: St. Louis Shakespeare

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Ave., St. Louis

Tickets: 314-361-5664; www.stlshakespeare.org