Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Also see Susan's review of The Normal Heart
Rayne explains that Merry Wives is a document of a time when fairly constant wars had drained the English economy, meaning that returning soldiersincluding members of the nobilityhad limited access to money. At the same time, the prosperous merchant class was in the ascendant. Thus, Falstaff pursues Mistress Page (Veanne Cox) and Mistress Ford (Caralyn Kozlowski) for access to their husbands' finances as much as for themselves, and at least two of the three suitors courting young Anne Page (Alyssa Gagarin) are strongly attracted to her dowry.
The director adds to his conceit by setting the production in 1919: another time when England was financially strapped in the aftermath of war, and the middle class (specifically its women) was driving changes in society. Daniel Lee Conway's sumptuous set and Wade Laboissonniere's luxurious costumes incorporate the sinuous lines of the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts styles, along with the faux Tudor design of the Garter Inn and a show curtain worthy of a music hall from the period.
The problem with focusing on financial intrigue is thatunlike such other Shakespeare plays as The Taming of the Shrew and The Merchant of Venicethe play doesn't depend on that; it's primarily about the interplay among the characters. Falstaff never suspects that the two wives might compare notes, and it's vanity rather than penury that drives him to one seduction attempt after another.
The production does benefit from a strong cast. In addition to Schramm, who dominates every scene in which he appears, Floyd King makes the most of his role as a Welsh minister; Tom Story is delightful as a pompous French doctor with an absurd Inspector Clouseau accent; Michael Mastro is Kozlowski's relentlessly jealous husband, a pinched-looking fellow in a black-and-white checked suit and glasses; and Michael Keyloun plays young Slender as if one can almost see the vacancy behind his eyes.
Shakespeare Theatre Company