The Shakespeare Theatre Company had a banner year for 2011-2012. Their 25th anniversary season closed as the theatre received the 2012 Regional Theatre Tony Award. Artistic director Michael Kahn brought in rave review-inducing Yale Repertory production of THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS to the Washington, D.C.-based company.
This season’s culminating production came with an English flare: the welcome return of that lusty knight of hearty appetites, carnal and otherwise, Sir John Falstaff in William Shakespeare’s THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. Wrapped up in a high class, British Empire-inspired setting and sumptuous costumes, MERRY WIVES was a great example of why Shakespeare Theatre Company is a national artistic treasure for classical theatre.
An impeccable cast, lead by Broadway veteran David Schramm as Falstaff, mined Shakespeare’s only true English comedy for every laugh possible. Director Stephen Rayne was able to balance the zany plot twists and Shakespeare’s text in a clear rendering of the play at Sidney Harman Hall.
Instead of an Elizabethan setting, Rayne and his design team Dan Conway (set design), Thom Weaver (lighting design), and Wade Laboissonniere (costume design) chose to set the production in the era just after World War I. The late-Art Nouveau look of the settings and exquisitely detailed costumes would be right at home on one of the BBC’s finest costume epics.
Even with the changed time period, Shakespeare’s Windsor is still a small town concerned with money and status. No one is more ready to acquire more wealth than John Falstaff, who schemes to woo two prominent women of Windsor. The fact that his intended victims are married is not an impediment to Falstaff, but fuels his fire for the women and their husbands’ money.
Like all small towns, word travels fast in Windsor so Margaret Page (STC Affiliated Artist Veanne Cox) and Alice Ford (Karalyn Kozlowski) get the jump on Falstaff to beat him at his own game. Their merry plans set up some wonderful comic scenes which end up leaving Falstaff hurt and confused until the entire town helps bring him down.
David Schramm is the spitting image of a perfect Falstaff and has bullish bluster to match. (Shramm is best known as the arrogant small town airline owner on WINGS, which ran on NBC from 1990-97.) Classy and comic Veanne Cox returns to the STC stage as Margaret Page, having performed leading roles in THE WAY OF THE WORLD, THE BEAUX STRATAGEM, and TWELFTH NIGHT. As the other Windsor wife, Caralyn Kozlowski makes a great impression as Alice Ford.
As Ford and Page, the would-be cuckold husbands, Michael Mastro and Kurt Rhoads excel in their respective roles. Mastro has some wonderful moments as he goes from deceiving Falstaff and practically breaking apart with jealously at the idea that his wife would cheat on him.
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR also boasts some of the crème of Washington’s acting talent. Floyd King gives Sir Hugh Evans a Welsh flair and flawless performance, while Tom Story nearly steals his scenes as the precious and heavily accented Frenchman Dr. Caius. These performers, and the rest of the company, continue to prove that Washington, D.C. is home some of our nation’s finest acting talent.
If you missed THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR’s relatively short run, another comedy will be back for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual “Free for All.” A much-loved Washington tradition since 1991, “Free for All” allows the general public a chance to see free performances of a Shakespearean classic. Kicking off the 26th season is ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, from the 2010-11 season. The comedy was originally directed by Michael Kahn and is being restaged by Jenny Lord.