The riotous romp, the scandalous show, the hilarious hyjinx is making its way to the tail end of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 25th Anniversary Season with William Shakespeare’s crackpot comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor. When attempting to juggle two women it is never a good idea to send them the same identical word-for-word love letter, especially not when these two women are good friends. Especially not when these two women are married. And especially not when these two women will plot revenge. The laughable tale of Sir John Falstaff, an impoverished, rotund knight, sets afire to the stage when he attempts to woo the two merry wives of Windsor. But inevitably his plan backfires leaving him drowned, beaten, and eventually cuckolded. With amorous side plots and general tomfoolery this show is a fantastic way to close the anniversary season.
Director Stephen Rayne manages to evoke sheer nonsensical humors from his cast as they plod their way through the dense but witty text that Shakespeare has to offer. It is one of the longer shows but Rayne succeeds in making the show move quickly, flowing with ease from scene to scene without hitch or catch. You hardly notice that three hours have passed by the time the curtain call arrives. Rayne also ensures that each of the heavier laugh moments is executed with precision, not a laugh line is missed as the sexual overtones of many of Falstaff and the wives’ speeches are recited in quick pace.
It is a jolly good time for all, the characters crafted in such a manner as to make them whimsical and almost fairytale like. The bumbling blustering fat knight we find in John Falstaff is almost farcical. And the maddening jealousy of Mr. Ford is riotous. Each of these well seasoned characters are brought to jubilant and exuberant life on the stage by this cast of sensational actors.
One of the highlights of this particular performance is that each character has a unique quality to define him or her on the stage, separating them into their own special category. For Doctor Caius (Tom Story) it is his over-punctuated French accent and highly physicalized approach to his character. Story’s character is an arrogant narcissist who is vying for the love and affections of Ann Page. He manages to make the character an uproarious riot every time he struts across the stage, paying obsessive attention to his perfume bottle, spritzing it everywhere and beyond excessively. He is a comic diamond in this mine of comic gems.
But the man who outstands them all in regards to physical comedy is Ford (Michael Mastro). In every scene he has some sort of grandiose outburst where his body becomes a spastic vessel for displaying his emotions. During his first soliloquy of being cuckolded he whines and fumes with passion; his speech peppered with picturesque moments of hilarity as he throws himself about the stage floor. Mastro has a range of brilliant facial expressions that portray shock, among other things, when disguised as Brooks and hearing of his wife’s supposed infidelity from Falstaff. Mastro is a sensational performer and adds an extra zing to this already zany performance.
The two title characters are nothing short of brilliant in this production. Mistress Ford (Caralyn Kozlowski) and Mistress Page (Veanne Cox) create moments of utter hilarity as they bring about the downfall of the greasy fat knight. They are truly like sisters needling and wheedling; their plotting for revenge is delicious deceptive and deviously delightful.
Cox presents a slightly matronly approach to the role, being the older of the two characters, but maintains her youthful good nature in her go-rounds with Kozlowski. Her facial reaction during the scene where she reads through Falstaff’s letter are nothing short of priceless; each response to his backhanded compliments more and more annoyed and frustrated. And when she arrives to break-up the meeting between Falstaff and Mistress Ford, executing one of their many plots against the portly man, her physical execution of comedy is sheer hilarity.
Kozlowski is an entertaining woman who keeps the audience in stitches as she messes with the mind of the greasy knight. Her convoluted roundabout trickery of Falstaff is extremely comical, her simple facial expressions and offhanded gestures scream of hilarity. She makes quite the picture of innocence when splayed upon the chaise waiting to receive him in their plot to undo him, and when she teams up with Cox in several scenes to mock him, her comic performance is second to none.
The show itself would be pointless without the fatso who started it all. John Falstaff (David Schramm) is every bit the grotesque obese knight who has fallen to the low point of his life, poor and lonely. Schramm is the spitting image of a downtrodden hobo Santa Claus, making his advances on the women that much more disturbing. His crude manner of speaking and gesturing speaks volumes of his salacious lechery toward the two merry wives. His voice is gruff like gritty tar when he bellows and he appears like a blustering old goat when whining from the chair in his home. Schramm gives a sensational portrayal of the knight, leaving no comic stone unturned as he falls victim to each of the wives’ traps. His facial expressions run along the lines of those in the cast; highly involved and very amusing.
This is one Falstaff who delivers exceptional, hilarious, and sensational results. The Merry Wives of Windsor is not to be missed!
Running Time: 2 hours and 50 minutes with one intermission.
The Merry Wives of Windsor plays through July 15, 2012 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall – 610 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 547-1122, or purchase them online.