Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Merry Wives of Windsor"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


by William Shakespeare
directed by Kevin Moriarty

Sir John Falstaff … Fred Sullivan, Jr.
Pistol, a follower of Falstaff … Ian White
Nim, a follower of Falstaff … Nehassaiu deGannes
Master Francis Ford, a citizen of Windsor … Brian McEleney
Mistress Alice Ford, his wife … Phyllis Kay
Master George Page, a citizen of Windsor … Stephen Berenson
Mistress Margaret Page, his wife … Janice Duclos
Anne Page, his daughter .. Rachael Warren
Master Robert Swallow, a country justice of the peace … Dan Welch
Master Abraham Slender, his nephew … Mauro Hantman
Dr. Caius, a French physician … Keith Jochim
Mistress Quickly, a tavern keeper … Barbara Meek
Master Fenton, a young gentleman … Paul L. Coffey
Host of the Garter Inn at Windsor … Brian Houtz
Servants, Townspeople, Friends … Aaron Andrade, Tyler Dobrowsky, Melissa Fendell

If Trinity Rep’s new production of THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR is your first encounter with Shakespeare, you may go home convinced that the Bard of Avon was really the Granddaddy of Sitcom: director Kevin Moriarty has transferred the rascally Sir John Falstaff and his romantic comeuppances from the Age of Elizabeth (I) to the Age of Elizabeth (II); the Garter Inn becoming The Windsor, a posh townhouse where Falstaff and his cronies live and party over the Ford and Page apartments. Newcomers are bound to have a blast (these WIVES adapt well to their current surroundings --- wherever it is set; with two exceptions, the production is accent-free); purists like me will need to do some adjusting before settling in, like travelers in a new country with an outdated map: Sir John resembles Jerry Garcia after too much Cherry Garcia; Pistol and Nim are rappers; Mistress Quickly hails from Brooklyn-town; and the Mistresses Ford and Page play Lucy & Ethel or, to be more accurate, Rhoda & Roseanne. There are poppings in and out of doors and windows; a pie fight; two chase scenes (one through the audience with water pistols); pop, rap and disco songs; and a feel-good finale with a nod to the musical HAIRSPRAY. (A lovely moment: after Falstaff’s second humiliation, the two wives smile and clink glasses; it is like a bass string being plucked to signal the end of a song.) Mr. Moriarty and his clowns achieve what they have set out to do --- to make you laugh, pure and simple --- and they are clearly having fun doing it, too, though I’m sure they would have reaped similar mirth on a bare stage and wearing doublets and hose.

Fred Sullivan, Jr. is the Falstaff, padded until he is nearly as wide as he is tall yet bouncing about as weightless as a Macy’s Thanksgiving balloon. I first saw Mr. Sullivan in Trinity’s MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN where his Jamie Tyrone remained on the surface; a swinging bachelor with a hangover. Comedy suits Mr. Sullivan better for he stands to one side of his own performances and substitutes shtick for emotion (I have yet to hear a heartbeat from him). Then there is his Groucho-esque voice, the same instrument for Shakespeare as it was for O’Neill (say “Yowsah, yowsah, yowsah” through your nose, and you have him); perhaps he was the reason for Mr. Moriarty’s modernizing --- his Sir John would be out of place in a tavern quaffing his ale and bouncing a wench on his knee; he is definitely a creature from the Here and Now. Brian McEleney, rolling the word “Well!” off his tongue like a cat trying to lick its own chin, plays the jealous Ford as a blend of Jack Benny and Caligula (throw in Bella Lugosi when he is “Master Brook”), and as pleasant as Phyllis Kay is as Mistress Ford, Sir John’s love object, I would give anything to see her trade roles with Janice Duclos (Mistress Page) to allow the latter to indulge in some epic grappling with Sir John on and off the chaise lounge. Ms. Duclos was the magnificent Josie to Mr. Sullivan’s Jamie --- two mismatched lovers not meant to be. For a few seconds of MERRY WIVES, Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Duclos flow into each other’s arms for a sweetly touching dance: Jamie’s come back to Josie after drying out for a season at Pepperidge Farms. With his new shape, Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Duclos now make a perfect pear.

"The Merry Wives of Windsor" (30 January-7 March)
201 Washington Street, PROVIDENCE, RI
1 (401) 351-4242

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide