Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Of Wives, Brides, and Girls

I think some people aren’t going to like my review of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in this week’s Style because I start out talking about a production that happened many years ago. What relevance, you might wonder, does the old production have to a current audience?

That question rang in my head as I was writing the review and I considered other directions but in the end I thought the comparison was relevant. To me, “Merry Wives” is a great comedy to go a little crazy with. Falstaff is Shakespeare’s great comic gift and, as broad (both physically and dramatically) as he is, I think you can go pretty far toward the absurd around him without risking being just flat-out ridiculous. And even if you err on the side of ridiculous, the opportunity for fun can make the show a winner.

There is much to like about the current “Merry Wives” production, as I hope comes across in the review. The key triangle of Todd Schall-Vess as Falstaff, Melissa Johnston Price as Mistress Page and Cynde Liffick as Mistress Ford all do great work and I loved all of their scenes together. But a key to where the production could have gone lies in the performances of Evan Nasteff and Brooke Turner. Nasteff does everything short of salivate to make Dr. Caius the image of a hyper-egotistic Frechmen. On the other side of the emotional scale, Turner is like a lusty little sprite flittering about her scenes, occasionally singing her lines. The two of them were the flirty/furious yin/yang of the piece and the source of much of my enjoyment with this production.

There are a lot of great comic performers involved in this show – Thomas Cunningham, David Janosik, Stephen Ryan, etc. – and while they are nicely entertaining here, I’ve seen all of them do better work in other shows. It could be a problem of expectations: I guess I was hoping for a more furiously funny production. Still, there are plenty of laughs here and, after hearing mixed things about “Cymbeline,” I was happy that the show seems like a solid return to form for Richmond Shakespeare. I just hope they don’t shy away from pushing the envelope a little further in the future.

I’ll be trekking down to Petersburg for “As You Wish,” the staged reading of “The Princess Bridge” tonight. The show is a pay-what-you-will benefit for Sycamore Rouge and features quite an exceptional cast. It’s inconceivable that people would pass up the chance to see this show! They’re doing it again tomorrow night so you don’t have to.

I also just heard that the Indigo Girls are playing at Maymont next Thursday. This has nothing to do with theater really except that I used to be such an Indigo Girls geek that I bought their take on the music from “Jesus Christ Superstar” way back in the mid 1990s. Funny thing: all the proceeds from the sale of that CD went toward supporting gun control. Wow, those were some idealistic days!

Finally, just to follow up on my “Dark Knight” mention yesterday: apparently commenters on Rotten Tomatoes have gone so far as to make death threats against critics who have published negative reviews about the movie. Really? I can understand passion about art but that’s just crazy. I expect some people won’t love my “Merry Wives” review (and feel free to post any rebuttals or counter-criticism) but the level of crazy here in our little community isn’t as high as in the public at large. Or at least, so I hope.

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