Theater Mirror Reviews "The Merry Wives of Windsor"

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide

| MARQUEE | USHER | INTERMISSION |


"What Happened in Boston, Willy?"


note: entire contents copyright 1996 by Larry Stark

"The Merry Wives of Windsor"

                          by William Shakespeare
                        Directed by Spiro Veloudos

               Sir John Falstaff...........William Gardiner
               Mistress Ford.............Deborah Schoenberg
               Master Ford................Clifford M. Allen
               Mistress Page.................Sheila Stasack
               Master Page.....................John Herring
               Anne Page.................Zoe Segal-Reichlin
               Master Fenton...................Colin Stokes
               Master Slender...................Doug Brandt
               Peter Simple..................Peter A. Carey
               Doctor Caius.....................Frank Dixon
               Sir Hugh Evans.................Mike Thurston
               William Page...................Todd W. Miner
               Robin......................Mayhew Seavey III
               John Rugby..................Duncan McCulloch
               Bardolph......................Gary Nicholson
               Pistol...........................Chris Burke
               Nym.............................Steve Rotolo
               Justice Shallow....................Bob Jolly
               Mistress Quickly...........Anne-Marie Cusson
               Garter Inn Host.............Alisun Armstrong
               Garter Ladies...................Erin Maguire
                                                  MK Larsen
                                              Ilyse Robbins
                                  

Spiro Veloudros, Artistic Director for The Publick Theatre, is blessed with an experienced cast for "The Merry Wives of Windsor". All but three of the twenty actors have trod the Publick 's simple, un-amplified outdoor stage before. Their obvious comfort and familiarity silken this sprawling, repetitious mishmash which, in any hands but Shakespeare's, would be a barely playable sow's ear.

It prefigures the conventional themes of later Restoration comedies: money and love, inheritances and cuckoldry. If the legend is true that Queen Elizabeth asked to see Sir John Falstaff in love, it is a love of their husbands' money first sends him wooing, and a belief in their feigned lust for him that trips him not once, but thrice into bombastic comeuppances.

It's Mistress Ford (Deborah Schoenberg) who invites him to assignations thwarted by her jealous husband's arrival, while Mistress Page (Sheila Stasack) lectures the audience with near feminist defenses of her sex. Eagerly tangled in their schemes, William Gardiner's Falstaff is turned every way but loose.

In a sub-plot, who will marry Ann Page (Zoe Segal- Reichlin) --- and share her inheritance when she attains seventeen? Will it be the mooning bumbler Abraham Slender (Doug Brandt) or the broken-French spouting Doctor Caius (Frank Dixon), or the pure-hearted young Master Fenton (Colin Stokes) who loves the lady not the dowery? Silly question!

If that weren't enough of a juggling act, a bunch of Falstaff's old pals wander in from the Henrys IV and V --- Bardolph the drunkard (Gary Nicholson), Pistol the brawler (Chris Burke), Nym the cutpurse (Steve Rotolo), Justice Shallow the old schemer (Bob Jolly), and even the meddlesome Mistress Quickly (Anne-Marie Cusson) --- though none but the last has much involvement with the main plots. In general, the play gallops off in all directions. There's even a midnight revel of elaborately masked "fairies" pinching poor Falstaff as a stag at bay.

Luckily the director gets clear, direct speech and a wide variety of physical inventiveness from a cast that knows when to take center-stage and when to defer to others. Solid talent everywhere allows him to orchestrate the pacing. For instance when Master Ford disguises himself to beg Falstaff's help in seducing his own wife, Clifford M. Allen's long, expository lines tumble out in a breakneck rush, while the fat knight --- when not pricked on to lusty wooing --- affects a quieter, almost contemplative directness.

Then there are characters that may not stand out in the text, but do in this production. Doug Brandt handles Slender's bombastic, self-effacing non-wooing with a fountain of nervous tics and tap-dances. Peter A. Carey as his servant Simple builds a granitic dead-pan and eternal slow-takes into a scene-stealing portrait of stolid sloth. And Frank Dixon's french malapropisms and flamboyant sword-play are impeccably timed. In this large, excellent cast their work holds its own, with fewer lines to work with.

All this company needs now is a dry stage and full houses for the rest of their ambitious summer season. I hope they get both. They deserve them.

===larry stark

4:33 a m

                        Set Design by Brent Wachter
                  Costume Design by Jana Durland Howland
                       Lighting Design by Russ Swift
                  Hair & Makeup Design by Melissa Houlter
                        Stage Manager Michele Keith
            Original Music for "Fie on simple honesty" composed
                             by Steven Bergman

                                    at
                            THE PUBLICK THEATRE
               
        Christian A. Herter Park, Soldiers' Field Road, "BRIGHTON"
                              1(617)782-5425
                              through 28 July
                                  


THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide

| MARQUEE | USHER | INTERMISSION |