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Theater review: Don’t worry, be ‘Merry’
By LUCIA ANDERSON
For THE FREE LANCE-STAR
“The Merry Wives of Windsor” requires an outsize actor—physically and comedically—to be a success, and David Schramm, starring as Sir John Falstaff in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s current production, measures up on both counts.
Falstaff is a rascal—possibly a lovable rascal, if you like the type—but a rascal nonetheless. Finding himself short of funds, he comes up with the idea of wooing two wealthy matrons (the merry wives of the title) and getting them to support him with their husbands’ money.
Not content with being duplicitous, adulterous and larcenous, Falstaff is also arrogant in the extreme.
This paves the way for his downfall.
Schramm gives the old rogue every ounce of his considerable personality and very nearly steals the show. By turns supremely confident in his physical attractiveness, cranky in tribulation and pitiful in his humiliations, Schramm plays Falstaff to the hilt.
He is ably seconded by other members of the cast, notably Veanne Cox as the vengeful Mistress Page; Tom Story as the supercilious Frenchman, Dr. Caius (think Clouseau); Floyd King as the Welsh parson, Sir Hugh Evans; Michael Mastro as the hysterically jealous husband, Ford; and young Ian Pedersen, who does a bang-up job with the nearly mute role of Robin, Falstaff’s page.
British director Stephen Rayne has chosen to set the play—originally Elizabethan contemporary—in 1919. Program notes tell us that Rayne picked 1919 because of an economic climate similar to the late 16th century—country impoverished by war, returning vets looking for work, societal upheaval, etc.
Sometime 1919 works, sometimes it doesn’t. An impoverished knight living in a tavern seems far more Elizabethan than Edwardian. However, his targets, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, and their families fit right in with the post-World War I atmosphere. The occasional bit of dialogue—e.g., a reference to doublet and hose—sounds a jarring note, but Dr. Caius all gussied up in Edwardian fencing kit for his duel with Sir Hugh is hilarious.
As far as visuals are concerned, Daniel Lee Conway’s set design is a marvel of ingenuity. Given Shakespeare’s habit of changing scenes every few minutes, getting the appropriate setting in place can be a challenge. Often, designers just opt for a spare set with the odd prop or two to suggest the milieu.
Conway has not only risen to the challenge, but completely overcome it.
Wade Leboissonniere’s costume designs also add to the scene, effortlessly establishing time and place.
Mistress Ford’s hat has to be seen to be believed.
Although there are discontinuities here and there, this production is highly recommended. Schramm alone is worth the price of admission, and his fellow actors and the set design make it even more worthwhile.
WANT TO GO?
What: “The Merry Wives of Windsor”
When: Through July 15
Where: Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW, Washington
Info: 202/547-1122; ShakespeareTheatre.org
Lucia Anderson is a writer in Woodbridge.