Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s (STNJ) season rings with Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” under the direction of Artistic Director Bonnie Monte, who chose this play to end her 25th season at the helm. This “Merry Wives” is a joyous celebration full of belly laughs and knowing snickers set in frothy, shabby chic Victorian wrought iron matroshka skeleton houses that put LEGO toys to shame in Jonathan Wentz’ adaptively mobile scenery. Tony Galaska’s subtle lighting moves the eye and makes amazing atmosphere, especially in the forest scene. Yao Chen’s costumes are most delightful in the final act, where the faeries and spirits of the forest remind us of the pagan origins lurking ’neath our current Christian views. Now, the play’s the thing with masterful performances by this all-star cast.
Sir John Falstaff (David Andrew Macdonald) is the aging playboy, whom we find prior to his achievement of utter dissipation. Here, he’s got shreds remaining of his humanity, and humility, and his scheming and his hope for the positive outcome remains forever green in this prequel to the Henry plays. His hope is to woo and win not one, but two married women simultaneously–Mistresses Margaret Page (Saluda Camp) and Alice Ford (Caralyn Kozlowski). Unbeknownst to our benighted knight, these two ladies are as close as sisters and determine to punish his perfidy. Alice has another end, as well–her husband Frank Ford (Matt Sullivan) is the needlessly jealous type. He’s too busy seeing things that aren’t there to see the full depth of his wife’s true love. Margaret is more than willing to help her bestie—shades of Ethel and Lucy)—but she’s trying to make a match for her daughter Anne Page (Rachel Felstein) from among the eligible bachelors in the neighborhood. Her husband George (Joey Collins) favors the simpleton Abraham Slender (Jonathan Finnegan), whose elder cousin Robert Shallow (David Cryer) is trying desperately to make a proper man of him, and is gaining no traction. Anne’s mother favors Dr. Caius, while Anne herself favors the more age-appropriate former bad-boy Fenton (James Costello), who is a reformed man under the power of Anne’s love.
Ames Adamson and Jon Barker have the two best comic characters in the piece, Sir Hugh Evans, a doctor of divinity, and Dr. Caius, the French physician, who both make “fritters of English,” as Shakespeare himself so aptly said. They are the Misters Malaprop of the piece and add curlicues of mirth whenever they appear. Evans is Welsh, and it’s a long standing bone of contention among English and Welsh on how the language is spoken. Caius is French and Barker’s Gallic shrugs at the foibles of the Anglais are as much fun as his Lollipop-Guild hairdo.
It is enjoyable to see Javon Johnson in the case as Bardolph, having seen him on tour with “The Triumph of Love” with STNJ’s Next Stage Ensemble. Young actors receive expert training and become the stars of tomorrow through this program. Felix Mayes was pure delight as the Page and also John Rugby–his expressions sparkle!
Come to see favorites like Kristie Dale Sanders stir the pot as Mistress Quickly, or Raphael Nash Thompson’s gravitas and joie de vivre. See new faces like Julian Gordon, William Harding (in the press opening), Sam Mulick, Ryan McCarthy, and Jason Paul Tate. Stuff your loved ones’ stockings early with the gift of live theater, make reservations today at www.shakespearenj.org.
Merry Happy Chrisma-Chanu-Kwanzaa-kah and Festivus to all!