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The Merry Wives of Windsor

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e experience of attending this new Shakespeare LA production is delightful: The subway ride to Pershing Square (if you're feeling urbane), the balmy evening, the glittering city around you, and the spectacular homemade picnic (if you're truly ambitious) combine to make for an unforgettable experience. This social outing is centered, however, on an entirely forgettable show. Director Ben Donenberg decided, for reasons one can only speculate about, that this Shakespearean script is the proto-sitcom, what with all its scheming and jealousies, and also decided to position the production in the golden age of the genre, the American 1950s. He then goes about halfway with it. Trevor Norton's TV frame set is a lovely thing, the interiors folding in on each other like so much origami rendered in Philco black and white. And yellow. And blue. Linda C. Davisson, too, costumes the early characters handsomely in shades of gray but abandons the conceit quickly on. So it is with the characters. Most have been patterned on a specific icon, but then of necessity get away from it. Falstaff (an articulate though not particularly jovial Irwin Appel) is Jackie Gleason from The Honeymooners, but lacking wife and gainful employment the character is reduced to a tosspot with a maudlin theme song. Patricia Belcher plays Mistress Quickly as the eponymous character from Hazel, and while the look is flawless the character is nowhere near the quietly meddlesome Shirley Booth creation. Belcher also has the most exasperating way of running out of breath halfway through her sentences. Others just confuse. Is Shallow (Patrick O'Brien) supposed to be Festus from Gunsmoke? Was there any television father that existed in such a constant state of grim inebriation as this George Page (Tim Choate)? The concept comes closest with the merry wives themselves, as Judy Moreland and Shana Wride approximate Ethel and Lucy in their handling of Margaret Page and Alice Ford, respectively. Approximate is the operative here, as Wride appears to be the Ethel in the mix until she shows up in a showgirl costume, the definitive Lucy ploy. Geoffrey Lower is appealing and impressive as Frank Ford, particularly as the character has been turned into a magician and handles the tricks with such grace (instruction in the black arts by Mark Wilson). Lower's Ford does come across, though, as an awfully smart and secure person to be so insanely jealous of his wife. The best part of the show is the "Windsor Network" warm-up comic, Lewis Dix. His television-themed material is smart and funny. After that, though, our temptation is to return to dining and visiting while the entertainment drones on in the background. In this way, I suppose, it's exactly like the Nick at Nite lineu

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