Mediocre Wives – Notes on a Shakespeare Performance

MWWThis review assumes a familiarity with William Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor.

  • So disappointed was I that I eschewed taking home the playbill. I speak of American Players Theater’s (APT) performance of Merry Wives of Windsor (without the The), September 19, 2015, 8 PM Saturday.
  • To be sure, two actors milked their performances to expectable, magical APT standards: Brian Mani’s Falstaff and Jonathan Smoots’ Doctor Caius.
  • Several second-tier performances deserve call-outs: Wigasi Brant’s Bardolph (at last, an actor who understands that “I shall thrive!” is a line to be delivered with gusto). Deborah Staples’ Mistress Ford and Colleen Madden’s Mistress Page are cheekily confident. Yet I’ve seen the production by APT twice previously, and the wives have been better played. Sarah Day’s Mistress Quickly is fine, but not up to the standards of previous performances. (“Thereby hangs a tale” was cut from her lines. Also, her “glover’s beard” reference, an autobiographical insert from Shakespeare no rendition of Wives should be without. Or, if it were there, I missed it. More on that later.)
  • David Daniel’s Master Ford is appropriately manic, but after Jim de Vita’s turn in the previous APT production, he seems to borrow too much from the legacy. His staccato-squeak delivery of the oft-repeated “cuckold” made me cringe. (And “wittol,” from the text, is cut entirely. Shame on you, APT. Afraid the audience won’t know the reference? Shakespeare fans ought to; don’t sell us short. Wait—Ford did it again. “I will rather trust … an Irishman with my bottle,” says Ford, where the text has aqua vitae bottle.)
  • The catechizing of William Page, the only self-named character in the canon, is entirely absent. All of Act 4, scene 1, is gone. Parson Hugh could have shone here for his malapropisms even more (“Hic hang hog”), but APT pulled it all. This was a mistake. 4: 1 shows, also, Ms. Ford’s ultimately loving care for children and Quickly’s daftness, but farce is all the APT team was after, and who knows Latin anymore anyway?—all this they seem to say.
  • Lowest tier performances.
    • First, Chické Johnson’s Nym is all but invisible. What can be an overreaching commoner aspiring to intelligence by referencing the humors with abandon was trimmed and deadened. Again, I got the impression the APT company doesn’t trust the intelligence of the audience to get the joke (which was also at Ben Jonson’s expense). Worse, Johnson’s Nym’s cockney accent was an embarrassment.
    • Second, Jeb Burris’ Pistol gets the same treatment. Lines are cut, and the magnificent insult Base Hungarian Wight! Wilt thou the spigot wield? is tossed off as filler. Pistol’s middle class education, which he should wear on his skin, is overlooked.
    • Third, Robert Doyle’s Abraham Slender is not nearly nervous enough for us to believe in his social reticence.
    • Fourth, Aidaa Peerzada’s Anne Page. If the cast has a nadir, she is it, wooden, softly spoken, and flat. Anne has a minor but important role in showing a bright, knowing young adult, a sort of sanity in the madhouse presence that was completely missed by the actress.
    • Fifth, and purposely last, is Tim Gittings’ Welsh priest Parson Hugh. Hugh’s lovable butchering of English ought to have gained as many laughs as Smoots’ Caius, but he didn’t push or emote Hugh’s earnest English-hacking to anywhere near the spirit it deserved. His second-tier character devolved into a minor character engaged but to advance the plot.
  • A British 1880’s era production design was the backdrop. Methinks someone took a tip from Winona, Minnesota’s, Great River Shakespeare Festival production of Wives in 2014. This smaller (and now better) crew placed the action in Edwardian England with emphasis on Joplin ragtime rhythms. Although Winona cruelly excised Bardolph altogether, their melding of music and play was magnificent. APT’s copy seems forced and over-idyllic. APT even drug in a raft of youth and a dog to push the cute factor. After cutting William Page, I guess they felt a need to pack the stage with singing youngsters. It didn’t work, for none of the little actors became anything more than a vehicle to explain the defenestration of Falstaff in the final act by the little urchins in fairy costumes.
  • Sonically, the play was very lacking, and here was my other chief concern. Although I sat in the left-third of the band shell seats, a good 1/3 to ½ of the lines were either garbled or inaudible. Even my familiarity of the text of the play didn’t help me fill in the gaps. What’s up, APT? Have you told your actors to drop 10 decibels?

Did Homer Invent the Limerick?

amphora_100124_056Archeologists Discover Papyrus, Script

Link to Homeric Style “Certain,” says expert

<snip>

“The ditty translates as follows:

I go to the amphora forum,
For it needs four metaphors for ’em.

I walk in the door with
Four metaphora forthwith—

Morphing amphora decorum.”

South American Chance

Camelids for South American Chance

A llama mall: a card game ahead!

“Deal ’em, Mac,” a camelid said.

A coupla’ alpaca dealt: “An’ you cave, vicuña,”

As up-cards sailed under toes bifurcated.

“Where is all my luck?” a huarizo led.

“I’m gonna’ go,” the guanico pled.

Note: I enjoy word-play nonsense, as you can see. How successful I am is up to the reader. “A llama mall: a” is an orthographic inversion. “Deal ’em, Mac/Camelid“, “A coupla’ alpaca“,and “An’ you cave, vicuña“,are syllabic inversions. “Where is all/huarizo” and “I’m gonna’ go/gaunico” are doubling puns.
(All pictures courtesy Wikepedia, except the huarizos, courtesy of this link.)

Bad Review

Mystery on a BudgetI got a bad review on my book Ready or Not available at Kindle. It isn’t long, but out of respect for the writer, I link it here rather than quote it in its entirety.

At first I had a sinking feeling and not a little despair. But on reflection, my writer’s integrity asserted itself and I issued a very polite (I hope) thanks and apologetic, also available at the above link as a comment on the comment.

Two things I take away from this. One is Kay’s (the reviewer’s) take on the language. I can’t apologize for my grammar. It is what it is. And I took severe pains to actually talk down the characters’ dialogue as I wrote (and rewrote) the text. I wanted characters’ spoken words to reflect accurately the speech I knew from my years in the 70s and 80s in Iowa, swearing included. Perhaps I had grown up in a privileged (linguistically) environ? Yet everyone I knew was middle class, strictly. We were well-educated readers in those days. All my friends read, and avidly. And we fished, played board games, card games, camped, and swatted softballs around. That was we. And my characters reflect that.

Two is her lack of commentary of anything substantial to the driving plot. I worried about this as I wrote it, yet it was based on real events. A youthful girl was raped who lived in my neighborhood while walking home from a school function at night. She did try to kill herself when her parents didn’t believe her after enduring months of her growing volatility and instability. This neighborhood shock was what inspired me to put pen to paper. Further, the subjects of unplanned teen pregnancies were beginning to become rife in the 80s, as well as the prevalence of digital and video material’s easy access to society.

It is as it was, and I stand by it. I see my book as more of a record of what started to happen to a recently staid society that found itself suddenly open to new avenues of media and rapidly changing cultural norms. We’re still reaping those changes.