Vpstart Crow The Merry Wives of WindsorBy Bob Ashby • May 11th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Gregory Family Theatre, Manassas, VA
Through May 15th
2:40 with one intermission
$20/$15 Seniors or Students
Reviewed May 7th, 2011
It’s like what Mazeppa, Electra, and Tessie Tura tell Louise in Act II of Gypsy: “you gotta have a gimmick.” This line must appear somewhere in the Shakespeare Directors’ Instruction Manual. In Vpstart Crow’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, the gimmick is texting. Falstaff texts. Mistress Ford and Mistress Page text. Practically everyone in the cast except, oddly enough, the younger characters (Ann Page, Fenton, Slender) constantly has a cell phone in hand and is constantly texting. Sometimes the texts appear, Facebook style, on a large monitor above the coffee bar. (Yes, the modern dress production is set in a coffee bar, apparently one with a liquor license.) Through the magic of theater, the 160-character limit has been banished, so texts can be as long as, well, a speech from a Shakespeare play.
Why didn’t Shakespeare think of all this? In the pre-electronics Dark Ages of Elizabethan England, the poor fellow was forced to rely on the meager resources then at hand, like language and character. Fortunately for this production, the central character of the play, Sir John Falstaff, is in the hands of someone who gets the character and language. It is hard to imagine any actor in the local theater scene better equipped to play Falstaff than Jay Tilley, who brings to the role an unbeatable combination of girth and top-notch comic acting chops. His Falstaff is gross, smelly, and utterly unashamed of himself. The production, which putters along somewhat fitfully when he is offstage, comes alive when he is on.
Timothy King, as Mr. Ford, is up to the challenge of playing the foil to Tilley’s Falstaff. King is also a gifted comic actor, who switches seamlessly between jealous husband and canny trickster, with excursions into unrestrained physical comedy, notably his blitz on a laundry basket. King even draws substantial laughter in using hand sanitizer. The scenes between King and Tilley are the evening’s best.
The quality of the supporting cast varies. One of the most successful turns is by Jean Gentry, as a nearly omnipresent senior citizen barista. Jack Powers does a convincing dumb jock type as Slender, while Catie Zadnick gives Ann Page an agreeable touch of sexiness. In her most important scene, Mistress Quickly (Sara Joy Lebowitz) does indeed speak very quickly, and at some length, managing the impressive feat of not letting Falstaff get in a word edgewise.
Aimee Snow and Kecia Campbell, as the important characters Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, did not appear fully comfortable in their roles. Snow, while playing her part with energy, suffered several line bobbles. Campbell’s connections to Mistress Page, Falstaff, and Mr. Ford often felt more tenuous then merry. That said, the fun these ladies have in repeatedly gulling Falstaff is an enjoyable element of the production.
In this production and others, Vpstart Crow sometimes casts women in roles originally written for men. Often, this practice is benign: having the Welsh minister be Dame rather than Sir Hugh Evans does no harm, and having the Host be a barista works quite nicely. But if not done carefully, gender-neutral casting can lead to strange results. At the end of the play, Dr. Caius and Slender carry off two actors to be married, in the belief that they are absconding with Ann Page. The actors thus carried off are obviously women, and have played their roles as women, not as pants roles, throughout the performance. So when Caius and Slender return, indignantly complaining that they have married boys, it creates a jarring double take.
“Trust the material.” That theatrical principle, above all in plays that have successfully entertained audiences for 400+ years, is a key to satisfying productions. You really don’t need a gimmick.
Photos by Cory Okouchi
- Shallow/Fenton: Steven Rice
- Dame Hugh Evans: Sara Bickler
- Slender: Jack Powers
- Mr. Page: Carlos Fischler
- Sir John Falstaff: Jay Tilley
- Bardolph/Jane Rugby: Maria Rizkalla
- Pistol/Roberta: Shaina Higgins
- Nym/Jann: Harlie Sponaugle
- Ann Page/Simple: Catie Zadnick
- Mistress Ford: Kecia A. Campbell
- Mistress Page: Aimee Snow
- Host: Jean Gentry
- Robin: Justin Smith
- Mistress Quickly: Sara Joy Lebowitz
- Dr. Caius: Jack Seeley
- Mr. Ford: Timothy R. King
- Director: Bob Smith
- Artistic Director: Rob Batarla
- Managing Director: Clemente Santiago
- Producer: Cory Okouchi
- Stage Manager: Josh Waldman
- Assistant Stage Manager: Maureen Frank
- Assistant Stage Manager: Leandra Lynn
- Techical Director: Mark Waldman
- Hair and Makeup: Mary Price
- Set Designer: Production Team
- Costume Designer: Bethany Goodell
- Lighting Designer: Bethany Goodell
- Light Board Operator: Bethany Goodell
- Sound Designer: Bob Smith
- Properties: The Cast and Crew
- Poster Designer: Brian Anderson
- Program Designer: Bob Smith
Disclaimer: Vpstart Crow provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/6621.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.