Thursday, June 27, 2013
On Saturday, 21 July 2012, I attended the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Auditorium Theatre in Cedar City, Utah. Peter Amster directed the performance. Roderick Peeples played Sir John Falstaff, Jacqueline Antaramian played Mistress Alice Ford, and Melinda Pfundstein played Mistress Margaret Page. Rocky Mountain Power Foundation, Canyon Media, and MediaOne sponsored the season’s performance.
The play tells the story of a swindler trying to gain access to the riches of two families in Windsor by seducing the wives. Sir John Falstaff, the rotund good-for-nothing, plans to do this by writing two identical letters: the first to Mistress Alice Ford and the second to Mistress Margaret Page. Mistress Page receives a letter, reads it, and becomes bewildered by Falstaff’s advances. Mistress Ford then visits Mistress Page. Mistress Ford shows Mistress Page another letter that she has just received, an exact duplicate. Shocked by Falstaff’s egotistical presumption and outrageous effrontery, they conspire together to get back at him. Without telling their husbands, the wives lead Falstaff into thinking that Mistress Ford is falling for his advances. Falstaff sets up a meeting with Mistress Ford and goes to her home. Mistress Ford invites him in while her husband is away and pretends to be impressed by Falstaff’s seduction. Before Falstaff gets too frisky, Mistress Page warns her friend that her husband, Francis Ford, is coming home. In order to send Falstaff furtively away, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page tell him to hide in a laundry basket. Falstaff hides in the basket, Ford rushes in to interrogate his wife, searches up and down the place to find the perpetrator, and the servants take the heavy basket right under Ford’s nose. Later, the servants dump Falstaff into the river following Mistress Ford’s orders. The story continues showing both mistresses dreaming up other pranks to play on Falstaff, wondering at Ford’s fatuous suspicion, and concluding their plans to teach Falstaff a lesson. Other subplots occur throughout the play, but all get resolved amicably and hilariously.
There were two things I noticed about this performance: They were (1) the colors in both the scenic design and the costumes, and (2) John G. Preston’s portrayal of Francis Ford.
The scenic design of the stage imitated the Shakespearean format of the Adams Memorial Theatre. I had seen performances before at the Adams Memorial Theatre, so I was not surprised by the setup of the scenery in the Auditorium Theatre. The balcony of the set overlooked the actors to allow them to fill in the theatrical framing of the stage during their performances. The colors of the wooden paneling showed deep browns and warm yellows, letting the colors of the costumes stand out with vibrant yellows, blues, reds, and purples. In one scene, when Francis Ford, disguised as “Master Brook,” consulted Falstaff about proving Mistress Ford’s virtue, he wore a cloak that displayed a metallic, paisley pattern. This gave off a slightly effeminate and eccentric impression of Mr. Brook, concealing his true character effectively.
John G. Preston, arguably, was the pleasant surprise of the performance. Roderick Peeples disappointed me a bit in his portrayal of Falstaff; I expected more oomph that wasn’t there. However, Preston brought out the humor during the Garter Inn sequences better. While playing “Master Brook,” he talked with a funny, modern (maybe Oxford?) British accent that channeled the Mad Hatter in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Preston had his character break Mr. Brook’s character by releasing brutish rage for a second upon learning about Falstaff’s first escape in the buck-basket. The audience saw the sweat and spit fling away from Preston’s face during one of Francis Ford’s tirades. It was very entertaining.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is not Shakespeare’s best play, but it does allow families to watch it together without parents having to worry about modern innuendo, gratuitous violence, and nudity. I call The Merry Wives of Windsor “Shakespeare lite,” a play that introduces children to the florid language of Shakespeare without overpowering their appetite for comic frivolity. They may not understand most of the dialogue, but they will not miss the comedy.