Originally believed to have been commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I, this lighthearted romp involving love, lies, and middle-class mischief is given its due under the sure-handed direction of Melissa Chalsma and her capable cast. Bernadette Sullivan's Mistress Page stands her ground when it comes to her choice of suitors for her daughter, while Aisha Kabia's Mistress Ford, wed to a supremely jealous husband, is Page's perfect confidante and co-conspirator as the two join forces to outwit Danny Campbell's rascally Sir John Falstaff.
Campbell's blustery connivances to woo this pair in hopes of accessing their husbands' funds are hilarious but hardly the sole source of humor in Chalsma's briskly paced production. As Ford, David Melville's conniptions grow volcanically with each new piece of potential cuckoldry. Meanwhile, Lorenzo Gonzalez very nearly steals the show with his foppish French physician, Dr. Caius, the suitor preferred by Mistress Page. Sporting a side-splitting accent, Gonzalez wrings every last drop of comedy from his bathing scene and during an inept duel opposite Sir Hugh Evans, an equally dialect-laden Welsh parson, portrayed marvelously by Sean Pritchett.
Other wonderfully drawn characters include Richard Azurdia's heart-clutching Page; Joseph Culliton's all-knowing Host of the Garter Inn; Claudia Vazquez's entrepreneurial Mistress Quickly, who serves Dr. Caius as well as her own purse at every turn; Thomas Ehas' Robert Shallow, a retired judge plagued mercilessly by his doltish nephew; and Philip Briggs, Andre Martin, and Luis Galindo as Falstaff's trio of lowlife companions Bardolfe, Pistol, and Nym.
Given the challenges of an outdoor venue, lighting designer Bosco Flannagan does a yeoman's job illuminating Caitlin Lainoff's multitiered scenery and Kate Bishop's eye-pleasing Edwardian-era costumes. Finally, should one's schedule permit, a pre-performance program hosted by company members, titled "Players in the Park," offers theatergoers the opportunity, on certain evenings, to delve into the script's background and characters and learn more about the process by which this enjoyable frolic made its way from page to stage.
Presented by Independent Shakespeare Company at Griffith Park Old Zoo, 4730 Crystal Springs Dr. (nearby), L.A. June 30–July 31. Thu.–Sun., 7 p.m. (818) 710-6306.