The Merry Wives of Windsor
Set in post-World War I England, The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Merry Wives of Windsor is about a different type of war: the battle between the sexes.
Full of love triangles, thwarted affairs and manipulation, this play mocks societal stereotypes about marriage, lust and money.
Shakespearian character Sir John Falstaff and Mistress Quickly return from "Henry IV" with the addition of some new equally absurd foils for each of them to play off. Once the companion of the ne’er-do-well Prince Hal, Falstaff (David Schramm), now has become a poverty-stricken, pitiful, obese drunkard. Despite his diminished social standing, he thinks himself to be quite the cad and he plans to make a quick buck by seducing not one but two of the local society wives, Mistress Ford (Caralyn Kozlowski)and Mistress Page(Veanne Cox.)
Of course his ridiculous plan soon falls apart when the too-smart best friends compare his love letters and vow revenge. They gamely entice him to their homes for promised trysts, only to force him to hide in a laundry basket, which is promptly dumped into the Thames. And that is just the beginning of the comeuppance that comes his way in the hands of these two crafty women.
Cunningly beautiful, Kozlowski easily intimidates all the men on stage other than Fallstaff, who naively assumes that his slovenly ways could entice her.
The women clearly have the upper hand in director Stephen Rayne’s production, as they appear blithely wise and entertained by their male counterparts, who are putty in their manipulative hands. In contrast, the men are nervous, easily manipulated wrecks.
And Falstaff isn’t the only comedic fool in this story who finds himself falling again and again for the women’s tricks. Several other male characters make easy butts of ongoing jokes. First there is Master Slender (Michael Keyloun), a shy thin-lipped character who is duped by Falstaff’s men, and tries in vain through awkward malapropisms to woo Mistress Page’s desirable daughter Ann (Alyssa Gagarin). Also in competition for Ann’s hand is the equally foolish French Doctor Caius (Tom Story) who wears absurdly tight bicycle shorts and is easily lampooned for his ridiculous accent.
Mistress Page’s husband (Michael Mastro) is tremendously goofy, nervously twitchy with bug eyed glasses and a look of shock and dismay that never leaves him. He is gullible enough to believe his wife would cheat on him with a clown like Falstaff. His plan to catch them together includes his offer to bribe Falstaff to seduce his wife, so he can catch them in the act.
Together, these different screwball scenarios add up to a high-energy performance, with actors so absurd in their quirks that it is even hard at times for them to keep a straight face during the production. While the comedy is far from subtle, the revolving cast of buffoons keep the play rolicking along at an upbeat pace.
The setting designed by Daniel Lee Conway focuses most of the attention on battles of the home, with the Windsor Garter Inn, a pub, set in between the homes of the Fords and the Pages. This is perfect for a comedy that is focused on drink and marriage. Costume designer Wade Laboissonniere helps build the humor through dress, as outlandish hats, oversized suits, bug-eyed spectacles, and too-tight bicycle shorts help build the clownish nature of the male leads.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" runs through July 15 at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW Washington, D.C. For tickets or info call 202-547-1122 or go to http://www.shakespearetheatre.org.