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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
The Merry Wives of Windsor
If there be no great love in the beginning, yet heaven may decrease it upon better acquaintance, when we are married and have more occasion to know one another: I hope, upon familiarity will grow more contempt. — Slender
 Merry Wives
Matt Sullivan and David Andrew Macdonald (Photo: Jerry Dalia)
There is no good reason that I can see to object to director Bonnie J. Monte's decision to Christma-tize Shakespeare's hastily written (fourteen days according to Bardologists) hack job of a comedy. Whatever it takes to make it work is good enough reason. So let her give Sir John Falstaff (David Andrew Macdonald) a sprig of mistletoe to dangle over the pretty head of Mistress Alice Ford (Caralyn Kozlowski) as he attempts his soon to be foiled seduction.

Monte, who is celebrating her 25th year as STNJ's Artistic Director, is, as she states in her program notes, fulfilling a vision for this minor comedy: "to make this show one of utter glee and giddiness." To that end, she has succeeded. So it also works for costume designer Yao Chen to put the characters in mostly splendiferous green, red and white embroidered and embellished sixteenth century (more or less) attire; although I'm not sure how period-perfect was the billowing white crinoline dress worn by Ms Kozlowski in the above scene.

That moment comes late in this almost three-hour production and allows for Kozlowski to tumble head first into a laundry basket with only her feet protruding upward from what looked like a turbulent sea of crinoline. For me, it was the funniest bit of business in this well-acted and beautifully dressed up production that otherwise takes it time and its toll on the audience.

The hills beyond Windsor, England, with its far away image of Windsor Castle glistening with remnants of a recent frost are a lovely sight. Closer are the clinging icicles that edge the town near a pair of skeletal white houses that set designer Jonathan Wentz has placed on rollers for easy moving. However, there isn't much concern from the inhabitants of Windsor, England regarding appropriate winter attire. I suspect, as you will, that the oddball collection of Shakespeare's mostly second-rate characters that command out attention have other things on their minds to help fill their days, such as finding a suitable husband for the marriageable Ann Page (a disarming performance by Rachel Feldstein) and also giving an especially hard time to its resident Casanova.

It's quite a revelation to see a very good-looking (save for the augmented paunch) and notably younger Sir John prior to his more debauched times in the Henry plays. In Macdonald's presence and exuberant performance we can see how this romantic rogue, whose purpose it is to seduce Mistress Ford and Mistress Page (Saluda Camp) at the same time, is given a remotely lovable, if not admirable, quality.

As awkward as are his shenanigans, an uncharacteristically dashing Falstaff gains our sympathy and makes his misadventures fun to watch. Although the rarely done play is predominantly poetry-free prose, the convoluted plot with its army of conspirators caused many people at intermission trying to figure out who was doing what to whom and to what purpose.

Judicious pruning of the almost three-hour text would have speeded things up, particularly the totally unnecessary tutorial scene between the Welsh Parson Sir Hugh Evans, as winningly played by a brogue-propelled Ames Adamson and the school boy William (William Harding, alternating with Sam Mulick). Certainly the inhabitants of this English country town, including the scheming rapscallions Pistol (Jason Paul Tate), Nym (Ryan McCarthy), and Bardolph (Javon Johnson) as well as the incomprehensibly French-ified yet still comical Dr. Caius (Jon Barker), are sent scurrying around our would-be-seducer like a group of avid nothing-better-to-do-with-their-time voyeurs. More directly involved are the baffled and certainly compromised husbands played nicely by Matt Sullivan and Joey Collins.

Jonathan Finnegan fidgets idiotically as the reluctant suitor Slender and Kristie Dale Sanders takes relish in manipulating the fate of Sir John Falstaff. In some respects, Sir John personifies the pretentions of this over-bloated play. It would have been nice to take some secondary pleasure watching the pursuit of pretty Anne Page by the young Master Fenton (James Costello), but they seem like a digression in a comedy that tries its best to be a diversion. In many respects, it is.

The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare Directed by Bonnie J. Monte

Cast: David Cryer (Robert Shallow), Jonathan Finnegan (Abraham Slender), Ames Adamson (Sir Hugh Evans), Joey Collins (George Page), David Andrew Macdonald (Sir john Falstaff), Javon Johnson (Bardolph), Jason Paul Tate (Pistol), Ryan McCarthy (Nym), Julian Gordon (Peer simple, Servant), Rachel Felstein (Anne Page), Raphael Nash Thompson (Host of The Garter Inn), Kristie Dale Sanders (Mistress Quickly), Felix Mayes (Robin, John Rugby), Jon Barker (Doctor Caius), Saluda Camp (Mistress Margaret Page), Caralyn Kozlowski (Mistress Alice Ford), Matt Sullivan (Frank Ford), James Costello (Fenton), William Harding, Sam Mulick)

Scenic Designer: Jonathan Wentz
Lighting Designer: Tony Galaska
Costume Designer: Yao Chen
Sound Designer: Bonnie J. Monte
Production Stage Manager: Kathy Snyder
Running Time: 2 hours 55 minutes including intermission
The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, located on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, N.J.
call 973 – 408 – 5600 or
Tickets: $32.00 to $62.00
Performances: Tuesdays December 8, 15, 22 at 7:30 pm; Wednesdays at 7:30 pm; Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; Family matinee Thursday Dec. 23 at 2 pm.
From 12/02/15 Opened 12/05/15 Ends 12/27/15
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 12/05/15
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