Theater Review: “The Merry Wives of Windsor”
In Richmond Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” directed by Shirley Kagan, Todd A. Schall-Vess plays Sir John Falstaff, a lecherous, money grubbing villain, attempting to woo a pair of rich, married, best friends: Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, played respectively by Cynde Liffick and Melissa Johnston Price.
Falstaff’s plan is to woo the rich wives to achieve financial gain. Of course neither woman has an interest in the overweight, older Falstaff so they conspire together to humiliate him and punish him for his inappropriate behavior. Poor Falstaff is thus put in increasingly compromising situations by the scheming wives. Schall-Vess portrays Falstaff as both pathetic and conceited at the same time with ease.
Dan Stearns plays Mistress Ford’s jealous, hot-headed, husband brilliantly as he pretends to hire an unsuspecting Falstaff to “spy” on his wife and test her faithfulness. Liffick and Johnston Price have an excellent dynamic on stage and their characters’ close friendship is believable for the audience. Their torturing of poor Falstaff is hilarious and makes them very “merry” indeed, at his expense.
As part of the subplot to this tale Mistress Page and her husband, played by Thomas E. Nowlin, wish to marry off their daughter Anne Page, played by Brittany Simmons, to two suitors: a French doctor Dr. Caius, played by Evan Nasteff, and Master Slender, played by baby-faced Sam Fairley. Nasteff is hilarious as the eccentric French doctor, as he does nothing on stage without a grand flourish.
“Wives” also highlights the stereotypical views of foreign cultures and social classes held by citizens of Shakespeare’s England, featuring several characters with over-exaggerated movements and accents. Stephen W. Ryan plays Falstaff’s page Robin and Shallow, a country justice. Ryan truly creates two separate characters for the audience and at times it was hard to believe it was the same actor playing both parts. Ryan’s facial expressions and borderline creepiness were a highlight of this show for me. Another notable performance is Brooke Turner as Mistress Quickly, servant to Dr. Caius. Turner is adorable as the busy-bodied, trouble-maker Quickly since Turner has excellent projection and comedic timing.
The set is very simple which is fine, as with the constant changing of locations that the play requires, a full permanent set would be difficult and restrictive. The costumes are always impressive but I did have a problem with some of the anachronistic shoes the actors were wearing. Matt Treacy returns again to highlight the action with his beautiful music.
“The Merry Wives of Windsor” runs through July 29 at Agecroft Hall. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit www.richmondshakespeare.com
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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