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The Merry Wives of Windsor

CATEGORY : COMEDY
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 4249

SHOWING : March 01, 2012 - April 01, 2012

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

The lecherous Sir John Falstaff sets his sights on the wives of Windsor, leading to a side splitting evening filled with mischief, schemes, a buck basket, a wood full of fairies and one pair of horns.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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Putting the “fun” in “dysfunctional”
by Lady Mac
Monday, March 19, 2012
4.5
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times – and I may need serious counseling.

Such is the case with Falstaff, for whom audiences of “Merry Wives of Windsor” would feel sympathy if his woes weren’t all his own fault – not to mention darn funny. This is a play about deception: wives deceiving lecherous admirer, spouses deceiving each other, children deceiving parents, reluctant potential cuckold deceiving his nemesis… Yet never has such an abundance of dishonesty been such a hoot.

Many of Shakespeare’s comedies have a few roles that allow actors to pull out all the stops. This play has a much more even distribution of flamboyance – with plenty of opportunities to go crazy with physical comedy, accents, the works. As such, almost everyone has a chance to shine in a juicy, fun role.

While there are a few instances in which a few actors overdo it, even in a wild and lawless play like this, almost the entire play seems to take place right on the outer edge of the bounds of goofiness. The audience, in any case, is so entertained by the characters’ antics and behavior that the occasional toe over that line is forgivable. (As is the “age-blindness” that the casting requires.)

The performances are almost universally perfect. The servant roles – usually the most over-the-top in a Shakespeare play – are wonderfully and surprisingly restrained in this one and performed very well by Matt Felten and Brian Lee.

Tony Brown is gloriously wicked as Falstaff yet never even comes close to alienating the audience. Even though you know he’s behaving very, very badly, you cannot help but smile at the twinkle in his eye when he thinks (wrongly) that he’s going to get away with something. Falstaff’s overconfidence is humorous because we know it won’t be rewarded, and his bragging about his appearance, his acting skills and everything else about himself is hilarious because of its exaggerated ridiculousness. Brown has played this role many times before and has crystallized in it a likeability that it probably doesn’t even deserve, largely through his playful interactions with the audience.

The “Wives” (Laura Cole and Mary Russell) are conspiratorial and clever; their friendship seems very real and warm. Nicholas Faircloth manages to give Mr. Page, one of the blandest characters on the surface, his own personality and signature “move.” But the real gem of a role in this Page/Ford foursome is Mr. Ford, and Matt Nitchie excels in making the most of it. Nitchie is a gifted comedian who evokes laughs with equal skill through dialogue, physical silliness and facial expressions. It’s been a delight to see him spread his wings and get better and better in plays at the Tavern, and he is fantastic as Ford – and perhaps even more so as “Mr. Brooks.”

All of the supporting roles are well-executed, too. Rivka Levin is adorable as a flirtatious, well-meaning go-between who effectively wields her wiles to repeatedly fool a very susceptible Falstaff. Jeff McKerley (parson) and Drew Reeves (Dr. Caius) gleefully butcher the English language and drip with accents, while Troy Willis (host) amiably overstates (and restates) basically everything. Daniel Parvis is brooding and menacing as Pistol – until he dissolves into a winningly smitten schoolboy. Paul Hester as Slender is the unlikeliest of suitors to the much-admired Anne Page and gives his character, which can often be irritating in productions of this play, a simpleness that makes him seem less like an intentional nuisance and more like a clueless buffoon.

With all these “big” (no pun intended, Falstaff!) characters, the potential is there for a battle to upstage one another, but that doesn’t happen in this production. Everyone knows his or her role and supports the other actors and characters, giving each time in the spotlight. It’s a great example of a true ensemble, something that the Tavern has been doing consistently well lately, especially with the comedies. The characters combine into a believable community, with convincing relationships and interactions.

This play may well be making deep, grandiose and insightful statements about the socioeconomic and cultural world of Shakespeare’s time … or about the institution of marriage … or about the Welsh. Maybe so – but you won’t hear them above the laughter.


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Falstaff in Rut
by Dedalus
Monday, March 19, 2012
4.5
I have a strained and strange relationship with “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” I was part of a production a number of years ago that challenged both patience and good will and was seen by few and remembered by none. Shortly after that, I faintly smiled through Georgia Shakespeare production that made me forget, if fleetingly, the recent death of someone near and dear.

Still and all, it’s a play I truly love, one that lets Shakespeare wallow in his own Middle Class peers rather than the princes and paupers we’re used to seeing him over-inflate. It’s filled with character and caricature, wiles and whimsy, jealousy and cheekiness, buck-baskets and bottom-feeders. In short, it is a delightful trifle that never fails to amuse

Yes, “Merry Wives” is gossamer-thin, lighter than air, and about as serious as the Marx Brothers contemplating Margaret Dumont’s bosom. Legend has it that it was written in fourteen days at the express request of Queen Elizabeth I, and scholars have been dumping on it ever since. It is over 80% prose, and has little of the soaring language Shakespearean addicts such as myself long to lose ourselves in.

But Preston Sturgess was right. Sometimes, a gossamer comedy is just what is needed, just what can give you a grip on your sanity, just what you want to give you the strength to face what lurks outside the theatre doors. It was just what I needed when I spent most of 2001 messing it up, just what I needed in 2002 when I was in deep mourning, just what I needed in 2012 when life if throwing little at me I can’t blithely smile away.

So, to summarize, we have the return of Sir John Falstaff, the bellicose, belly-quivering knight from the Henry IV plays, this time in lust with the comely wives of two Windsor merchants. Appalled at his assault on their good character, they conspire to give the lecherous knight his come-uppance, creating a whimsical and merry romp that leads Falstaff under the river and into the woods, donning a set of antlers to actually become his “stag in full rut” for the entire village to see and to mock. Throw in some standard sub-plots involving true love and fortune-hunting and poor parental match-making and every other comedic trope Shakespeare had developed by this point in his career, and what’s not to like?

This production at the Shakespeare Tavern is a delight from beginning to end. From the traditional Tudor stage set to the joyous merriment of Laura Cole and Mary Russell as the wives, to the raving jealousy of Matt Nitchie as Master Ford, to Tony Brown’s larger-than-life-Falstaff, to the fractured English of Jeff McKerley’s Evans and Drew Reeve’s Caius, to the bonhomie of Troy Willis’ Host, to the cluelessness of Paul Hester’s Slender, to the simplicity of Matt Felten’s Simple -- everything conspired to make me smile, even laugh. If the Fenton and Anne love story came across as the least interesting aspect of the story this time, I didn’t especially care, since the whole affair was just so durn pleasant.

So, you may criticize “Merry Wives” for not being as deep or as poetic or as weighty as other works in Shakespeare’s comedic canon. You may puzzle at its lack of princes or villains, or its constant allusions to Elizabethan “Humors” Theory. You may even quibble that it finds lechery and unrestrained jealousy faster fodder for our entertainment appetite than love and virtue. But you won’t be able to ignore its joyous passion, its rabidly appealing ribaldry, or its full-frontal assault on your funny bone.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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