“We leave a proof by that which we do.
Wives may be merry but honest too.”
Stephen Rayne’s expert adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor sets the action in 1919. Since the play is originally about the societal and economic turmoil of the 1500’s the re-location to just post World War I British society helps draw attention to the fact that this is a society in flux. The status of women is changing and old distinctions of money and class are breaking down as well. Sir John Falstaff here in all his gallant buffoonery and his quarters done up in the best British Imperialism style symbolizes the emerging waning of the British empire while those merry wives who lead him on so relentlessly and the rebellious Ann Page are a sign of women’s coming suffrage. It’s a clever choice on Rayne’s part that adds new substance and texture to this old bawdy, beloved, Elizabethan farce.
It helps of course to have this sort of period adjustment supported by a good production staff and Rayne has some of the best. Daniel Conway’s period sets are gorgeous and Windsor Palace is often to be seen in the background. He also makes great use of the comic possibilities of a doctor’s office. Wade Laboissonniere’s costumes are a delight, from the lady’s elaborate hats to the dueling attire. The very sight of the characters sometimes in their elaborate garb is often more than sufficient to earn a laugh and that is all for the good right there.
As in any comedy, the main test belongs to the timing of the cast. Veanne Cox is the model of refined, evil, wit as Mistress Page and Caralyn Kozlowski is an irresistibly vampy Mistress Ford. Amy Hohn appears to be having the time of her life as the loquacious wheeler dealer Mistress Quickly. Michael Keyloun does a wry interpretation of that young fool Slender while our local favorite Tom Story leaves tooth marks all over the furniture in his performance of Doctor Caius (an embodiment of every meanest stereotype known about the French). It’s not subtle but it does get the job done. By way of contrast James Konicek’s Pistol and Hugh Nees Nym are effective precisely because the actors don’t overdo it as is too often the case when Falstaff and his partners in crime make an appearance.
David Schramm as Falstaff is quite simply a revelation. For one thing he’s the perfect physical presence as Falstaff; wearing his portly physique proudly with a distinguished old grey beard but on his feet he’s light as a feather. His Falstaff is a pompous, dignified, old scoundrel. A lordly fool who doesn’t know he’s a fool.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a good old fashioned lusty treat of a show, full of mirth and merriment. It’s a perfect guilt-free pleasure of an evening.
Photos by Scott Suchman from top:
1. Veanne Cox as Margaret Page, David Schramm as Falstaff and Caralyn Kozlowski as Alice Ford
2. Kurt Rhoads as Page and Michael Mastro as Ford
3. Hugh Nees as Nym, Michael Keyloun as Slender and James Konicek as Pistol
Shakespeare Theatre Company
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Directed by Stephen Rayne
Sidney Harman Hall
610 F Street, NW
Through July 15, 2012