Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Merry Wives of Windsor (Actors' Summit)

The Silvers have a Merry Time at Actors' Summit

William Shakespeare was the most influential writer in all of English literature and certainly the most important playwright of the English Renaissance. Born in 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England he died in 1616 at the age of fifty-two. His legacy is a stable of comedies, farces tragedies, historical plays and poetry that are produced and reproduced by theatres the world over.

One of his most farcical scripts is ‘THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. The play's comic intrigues create a jovial tone. But, as with many of his plays, ‘THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR’ carries a social message The title of the play declares the primacy of the women's roles: the play is literally the story of the two merry wives and, against the thoughts of his day, how they manipulate the men in their lives.

The plot surrounds the playful but virtuous behavior of the title characters, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, who are married to two prosperous men of Windsor. The wives set out to dupe the sexually predatory Falstaff while curing Ford of his jealousy. Meanwhile, the Pages' daughter, Anne Page, wooed by Fenton, a man of higher birth but less money. This creates Shakespeare’s other message: romantic love as a kind of social assimilator, transcending class and enabling individuals to create new and inclusive social categories around their romantic relationships.

Shakespeare is noted for his clever use of words and rhyming patterns. Interestingly, this play makes use of far more prose than any other of his plays. It is filled with proverbs and clich├ęs.

For a production of ‘MERRY WIVES’ to be successful, at lease six major characters have to be excellent…the two wives, their husbands, Falstaff and Miss Quickly. Fortunately, in the Actors’ Summit production all of these roles are adeptly acted, thus insuring a happy theatrical experience.

As Mistresses Ford and Page, Sally Groth and Rebecca Knab are delightful. They scheme and the plot and are completely believable. Tom Stephan as Master Page and Andrew Narten as Master Ford are fine. Narten is especially fine in the scenes where he becomes hyper-hysterical when he thinks his wife is having an affair with a gentleman caller.

Reuben Silver, as Falstaff, the lecherous curmudgeon, is character perfect. He delights! Dorothy Silver, the other half of Cleveland’s first acting family, is obviously having a ball playing the interfering Miss Quickly.

Unfortunately, some of the other cast members don’t do as well. In the role of the suitors for the hand of Anne Page, Jeff Nichols as the Frenchman Doctor Caius, overdoes his accent and is entirely too fey and Aaron Coleman, as Slender looks the part, but never quite develops a believable characterization.

Director Neil Thackaberry has wisely chosen to put aside English accents, and has the cast speaking clear General American English.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Shakespeare is difficult to perform, especially for Americans who often can’t identify with either his message or intricate language. The Actors’ Summit production of ‘THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR,’ while it does not have the polish of a professional production, is quite creditable and worth seeing.