This 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?