The Merry Wives of Windsor
Shakespeare on short notice: legend has it that Queen Elizabeth wanted a play featuring Falstaff in love. The Bard had, the legend says, two weeks to write the five-act comedy. The script takes longer than his others to get going. And once it does, it's mostly setups and punch lines. Shakespeare used a fascinating shortcut, however: he didn't have time to develop characters, so he gave them distinct voices and turned the stage into a Babel of warped idioms. For the Old Globe, director Paul Mullins reset the play in the Old West. Ralph Funicello's versatile, stained-wood set becomes a dusty street, a dance-hall saloon, and a moonlit forest (okay, the relocation doesn't work 100 percent). Denitsa Bliznakova's multilayered costumes make the transition from buckram to buckskin with ease. If the production has a concept, it would be "Merry Wives is goofy. We're honoring that. Enjoy." Mullins's large cast communicates the fun of doing one farcical lick after another. As Falstaff, Eric Hoffman's opening night was, at best, okay. Hoffman pushed for emotional breadth almost to the point of straining his voice (plus, Falstaff relishes language as much as he does capons; Hoffman gave his words more utilitarian deliveries). Some individuals shine. Katie MacNichol and Celeste Ciulla, as the merry mistresses Ford and Page, bookend the show with schemes and class (a favorite bit: at one point they adopt a 19th Century melodramatic style and frolic with histrionics). White hair down to his shoulders, Jonathan McMurtry looks like Wild Bill Hickock, until he draws his six-shooters and terrorizes the town. Wynn Harmon's Caius, a French doctor in an aqua jacket, malaprops amusingly. Deborah Taylor, Charles Janasz, and Sloan Grenz enhance scenes. And Bruce Turk, as Frank Ford, turns a minor character into a Falstaff-sized, green-eyed dupe.
Worth a try.
Ongoing until Sunday, September 28, 2008