The Merry Wives of Windsor
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
October 30, 2010
How difficult it is to resist the spell of that irresistibly resistible rascal Falstaff!
One of Shakespeare's greatest comic creations, the corpulent Sir John has the distinction of appearing in three of his creator's plays, the two parts of Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor, the latter of which has been brought to our shores by Shakespeare's Globe for a brief run at the Schimmel Center at Pace University.
We don't see this play professionally staged much in New York, so that's the first reason why it's a real treat. The second is that this production, under Christopher Luscombe's superb direction, is an utter delight from start to finish.
In Merry Wives, considered in program notes to be the very first sitcom, Falstaff, short on money, sends identical love letters to two wealthy housewives, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, in hopes that they'll fall under his romantic spell and he'll be able to blackmail them. What he doesn't realize is that women talk, and the mistresses quickly realize that the letters are the same. They, in turn, decide to turn the trick around on Falstaff, in which their respective husbands, and the entire town, ultimately, get involved. A subplot revolves around the courtship of Mistress Page's daughter, Anne, and her three potential suitors, the one her mother likes, the one her father likes, and the one she likes.
The cast (which numbers 17 principals, with an assorted, alternating young ensemble), is led by the great Christopher Benjamin, a bluster-filled egg with legs, as Falstaff. He successfully mines the role for both its considerable laughs and pathos. Serena Evans and Sarah Woodward are quite funny as the scheming Mistresses, Page and Ford, respectively.
Really, there isn't a single weak link in acting or design, and just as many laughs are received through Janet Bird's costuming as they are from performances (like the entrance of Will Belchambers as the fey Abraham Slender, one of Anne's suitors, clad in lime green tights and a ruff that's larger than his head). Bird also designed the set, which economically consists of two revolving platforms and a multi-purpose structure serving as a house, garden, tavern, and more.
This production originated at the Globe in 2008, where it was very well-received. After being revived there with the same cast this past August, it is now on tour, having played in Santa Monica, and will follow up its New York engagement around the United Kingdom. How lucky we are.