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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Too rarely done and prime movie material in the right hands, there's an excellent chance to see it here in a fine production by the Classical Theatre Lab. Funded largely by the City of West Hollywood, it's their second season of Free Shakespeare in the Park.
Director Carey Upton has done a first-rate job in cutting the nearly three-hour play to two, hitting all the plot points, developing the humor and delivering a well-paced and imaginatively staged production. Falstaff, always on the look-out for a lady rich in pounds (both physical and financial), has zeroed in on Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, both of whom are smarter than he is. The fun-loving ladies decide to teach the Fat Knight a lesson that may cure him of his lechery. It takes three lessons before any of them get it.
The sub-plot revolves around Mistress Page's daughter Ann, an heiress who is the target of many clownish fortune hunters favored by her parents but has her heart set on handsome young Fenton, impoverished but loving. Lust and love chase each other around the stage with equal passion. This gives us a glimpse of what Queen Elizabeth I thought was worth watching and considering her wily manipulations of the crowned heads of Europe who sought her hand, it's unclear who was kidding who, Shakespeare or his Queen.
Presented on the bare stages of the West Hollywood parks, the costumes have been colorfully and wittily updated to the 1950s by Erin Tanaka. There's nothing cut-rate about the cast. Mistress Quickly, who goes between the Wives and Falstaff, is deliciously portrayed by Jean Gilpin. Elyse Ashton is a beauteous Mistress Ford who is every jealous husband's nightmare and fends off all foolishness with tough love and panache. Victoria Hoffman gives the more flirtatious Mistress Page full marks for light-hearted fun. Frank Ford, who disguises himself as Mr. Brood to deceive Falstaff and trap his wife, is a role that demands diversity and gets it from the passionate Stuart W. Howard. Greg Baglia maintains his credibility quotient (last reviewed here in Fortinbras) as George Page. Paul Morgan Fredrix is a memorable Justice Shallow and Troy Dunn a versatile and comic Slender.
It's almost impossible to find a perfect Falstaff in a repertory company. Joe Hulser plays the Fat Knight here, with considerable padding, and a Falstaffian gleam in his eye. A little more lechery and bombast would fill out his Falstaff, even without the padding.
There are too many characters to mention but familiar names like Pistol, Bardolph, Nym and Simple will remind you that you have heard of this purely comic Shakespearian masterpiece many times. Not only the servants but the suitors are transformed by Shakespeare into inspired clowns.
Worth doing and well done!