Edward Ravenscroft wrote The London Cuckolds in 1681, but the jokes are pretty timeless: Horny young men jump through hoops to seduce married women. A husband throws on a dress and impersonates his own wife. Rascals are burned with coals, beaten with cudgels and soaked in urine. Nearly every flowery word is a phallic double-entendre. This Restoration comedy might as well be called Desperate Housewyfs.
The Carnegie Mellon School of Drama has a diverse season: a Chinese movement piece, a Sondheim musical, a Tony Kushner drama and the scary-sounding "Brecht Cabaret." But Cuckolds is straight-up silliness -- big wigs, mistaken identities, meddling servants and oh so many foppish dandies. To understand just how low-brow this comedy is, know that one sight-gag in this CMU production is clearly lifted straight from Mike Myers.
And Cuckolds really is a raunchy show. It's hard to say what Terry Johnson added when he "adapted" the play in 1998, but it's indisputable that this 17th-century story shows three wives getting nookie from three different suitors -- and, in at least one case, the wrong suitor. When they're not making up ridiculous stories to cover their trails, Cuckolds' characters are leaping in and out of bed like acrobats on a trampoline; just when the coast looks clear, an oblivious husband blusters into the bedroom, and a hapless lover must collect his scattered clothes and sneak out.
Don Wadsworth directs Cuckolds with aplomb, and his actors keep a brisk pace -- thankfully, as the play is still more than two-and-a-half hours long. (Believe me, that's a lot of dick jokes.) The production's younger actors are all attractive and fun, squeezing every last joke out of their spidery lines. Curiously, Wadsworth has cast only CMU instructors as the husbands and only students as wives and suitors, a choice that's slightly creepy on paper but in practice shows how old and out-of-touch aristocrats could be.
Cuckolds doesn't have much substance, and Ravenscroft seemed very satisfied with this fact: The prologue practically brags about the play's inanity. Instead of subtext, Cuckolds offers spectacle: Ryan Park's costumes are sumptuous masterpieces, Leah Pettis' set design is a movable feast of colors and passages, and Nathan Hall's original score keeps the tone peppy. Like most classical plays, Cuckolds comes off too long, the jokes grow tedious and the finale takes forever to resolve. But at least it doesn't end in a wedding. That would be too classy.
The London Cuckolds continues through Sat., Feb. 28. Philip Chosky Theatre, Carnegie Mellon University, Oakland. 412-268-2407.