SSC and Merry Wives

August 2nd, 2002

I was working Merry Wives of Windsor today, mostly directing traffic, and trying to cram the 600+ people who showed up unexpectedly for a Thursday matinee, into the Glen

Doubts

This production has almost restored my faith in the play. Almost. Its a light weight, campy play, not all that good, written at the whim of the Queen because she took a liking to Falstaff. Master Ford is often played unbearably, so that you cringe every time he steps on stage, very few Shakespearean actors know what to do with the 2 pragmatic wives, and the only way one can play Falstaff is broadly (pun intended) and in doing so many people lose track of his humanity.

Besides, it is a very English play, and a comedy at that.
The humor turns on class, class pretensions, accents, and making fun of the Welsh and French. Never a scene slips across stage without some blue collar elocuting out of their depths, and tumbling, via some malapropism, into sexual innuendo.

Dxxx Sxxxx

That, and Dxxx Sxxxx absolutely ruined the play for me in 1993, with a horrendous production set in a 1970s trailer park. Sxxxx is always over the top, and his artistic contributions have been both brilliant and formative over the last 20 years. No one who saw Prince Hal as Boy George, ride into the Glen on a motorcycle will ever forget it. Nor Sxxxx’s cross cast Midsummer Nights. And one of my all time favorite theater memories, is his production of the Tempest, set on Gilligan’s Island with Ariel a flaming trapeze artist, Caliban dressed in leather boy bondage style, and “water nymphs” dressed in 50s style bathing suits, dancing in sprinklers in front of the stage, who also served as something of a chorus, holding up beach balls, karaoke style, of Ariel’s songs.(of course I had a crush on one of the nymphs, might have had something to do with it) But Merry Wives was dreadful, and he cast himself, hideously, as Mistress Quickly.

The Good

But back to this years show. Ford in particular was masterfully done. His jealousy amusing without being despicable(and more believable, with Mistress Ford being cast very sexily, at several points appearing in Marilyn Monroe garb for this 50s production) and his transformation into Master Brook, subtle. And Falstaff was also human enough to connect to, to care about, again so often played in equal parts despicable and buffoon.

The setting is in the 1950s, but without a single American Graffiti prop. This is not James Dean’s fifties of teenagers. This is a 50s of adults, mercifully void of poodle skirts, muscle cars, and Grease casting extras. A beautiful set, in orange and turquoise, relatively minimal, as is usual for outside productions, but very expressive.

And I wish plays sold sound tracks, because this one was a great mix of hits of the 50s , masterfully synced, in snippets, with the action on stage.

Also heard a rumor that Ashland is opening its New Theater (yup, thats what its called), replacement for the dearly departed Black Swam, with a production of Macbeth. Which is just asking for it, calls to mind Terry Pratchet’s line about standing “in a thunderstorm, wearing copper armor, shouting ‘All Gods Are Bastards’.” But not just any Macbeth, a 5 person, 90 minute, no intermission Macbeth. Wow.

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