Caralyn Kozlowski as Alice Ford, Michael Mastro as Ford, Kurt Rhoads as Page and Veanne Cox as Margaret Page in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, directed by Stephen Rayne. Photo by Scott Suchman.
I’ve been putting off my review of Shakespeare Theater Company’s The Merry Wives of Windsor because there’s nothing less joyful than writing a mediocre review. But Director Stephen Rayne and the other folks involved clearly invested a full 20 or 30 minutes of thought into the production so I owe them as much of my time writing about it.
Snark aside, that’s the more generous reason I can come up with for this production, which opens dull and plods through the conflict between the men in the first half. By the time we get to the better second half and the actors seem engaged with the material – rather than feeling like they’re reciting it phonetically – we’re conditioned to be bored. Which in a frothy piece like Merry Wives is almost criminal. But to think this is the best efforts of everyone involved is even more depressing than thinking it was phoned in.
After all, this isn’t Rayne’s first experience directing Tom Story. But even presumably forewarned, he still lets Story turn it up to 11 and play Dr Caius as if he’s been transplanted out of Monty Python’s Holy Grail. If everyone was up there in full froth it would be one thing, but Story is allowed to play it so far out of sync with Floyd King, Michael Mastro, and Kurt Rhoads that it seems like he’s in a whole other show.
The production cuts the subplot with the German swindlers and leaves you with the sense that it would have as soon cut the conflict between Dr Caius and Floyd King’s Parson Evans. It slogs through the misunderstanding and slows everything down, which would be less of an issue if it didn’t prevent us from getting to where the show works: David Schramm as Falstaff and Veanne Cox and Caralyn Kozlowski as Mistresses Page and Ford, the titular wives.
The second half hits the ground running and everyone suddenly seems connected to the language. Its tragic we don’t have that energy in the first act. The big silly comedy works well with Cox in particular bringing a subtle wryness to the stage.
David Schramm as Falstaff in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, directed by Stephen Rayne. Photo by Scott Suchman.
As always with STC, the sets and costumes are lovely. It’s a shame the production doesn’t live up to its look.
The Merry Wives of Windsor runs through July 15 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Harman Theater, located at 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004. Closest Metro stop: Gallery Place/Chinatown (Red/Yellow/Green lines). For more information call 202-547-1122.