Real Housewives of the Elizabethan Period
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
By: Quill Theatre’s Richmond Shakespeare Festival
At: Agecroft Hall & Gardens, 4305 Sulgrave Road, Richmond, VA 23221
Performances: June 2-26, 2022
Ticket Prices: $20-$33
Info: (804) 353-4241 or quilltheatre.org
There’s something magical about sitting under the stars on a warm summer night watching live theater. But not even the perfect ambiance of Agecroft Hall & Gardens was enough to make The Merry Wives of Windsor work for me. Quill Theatre specializes in “classical theatre for the current world,” and often sets Shakespearean works in modern or contemporary settings, but while the cast of this production was dressed in some sort of modern attire, the style and location were uncertain. Yes, there was mention of the Thames, but there never seemed to be any anchoring element that locked in the physical location. And while this has been described as one of the bard’s most popular comedies, and the audience on June 23, the last weekend of the three-week run, was demonstrably enthusiastic, but it just didn’t connect for me.
When Sir John Falstaff falls on hard times, he devises a plan to seduce the wives of two wealthy merchants. He implements his plan by sending them identical letters declaring his love, by way of introduction, but of course they know each other, compare letters, and devise a scheme of their own to get revenge. What follows is a chaotic hodgepodge of Elizabethan slapstick humor, plot and counterplot, and subplots involving a cast of characters I never could seem to keep straight.
The play opens with a rendition of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” and concludes with The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” (I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want). Cast members are dressed in contemporary attire of an indeterminate style and time period and a party guest arrives bearing a box of wine. Mistress Quickly (Erica Hughes, who never fails to leave a positive impression with her physical presence and comedic timing) plays maidservant to Dr. Caius and acts as a messenger taking not one, not two, but three sides, and pocketing a little something on the side from each hopeful lover. In this version she apparently accepts these tips via Venmo or CashApp. Falstaff (Steve Holloway) makes one escape from a jealous husband via laundry bin, and gets dumped into the Thames River for his trouble. On another occasion he makes his escape dressed as an older woman, and gets soundly beaten for his efforts. For all his trouble, he unfortunately remained an unsympathetic character.
The participants in a duel, Dr. Caius/Robin Vogel and the Parson, were both misdirected to erroneous locations: one shows up with a sword and the other with a golf club. One jealous husband, Master Ford (Robby Gotschall), disguises himself – by donning a baseball cap – and two parents each engineer a secret wedding for their daughter to a man she has no interest in marrying. Anne (Robin Vogel) ditches both unwanted suitors (Dr. Caius and Slender (Kellan Oelkers) for her own secret lover Fenton (also Oelkers). Her parents’ plans are foiled, leaving Dr. Caius and Slender finding they were both tricked into marrying boys disguised to look like Anne in the darkness of the woods. So, The Merry Wives of Windsor is not lacking in humor, but the presentation and timing were somewhat disappointing.
Act 1 was challenged by chatty birds flying overhead and spotty microphones – especially for the supporting characters, while Act 2 was infiltrated by a passing train or two. One of these three distractions was controllable. Sir John Falstaff (Steve Holloway) seemed to be less than committed to his role; while the dynamics between Mistress Page (Donna Marie-Miller) and Mistress Ford (Amber James) was refreshing. My favorite character was a supporting role: Nicole Morris-Anastasi (who also choreographed the show’s lively hijinks) played the Host of the Garter Inn as an animated hip hop character.
I usually see a show during the first week of a run, but due to out of town travel and weather conditions that resulted in my first two reservations getting rained out, I didn’t see The Merry Wives of Windsor until the final weekend – after the director and cast had had time to iron out the wrinkles. Only they weren’t ironed out. And I felt disappointed. Fortunately for the company of The Merry Wives of Windsor, the audience – enjoying the show and weather after a rainy day – had a much more positive take than I.
The Merry Wives of Windsor
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Aili Huber
Mistress Ford …………… Amber James
Mistress Page …………… Donna Marie-Miller
Master Ford …………… Robby Gotschall
Master Page …………… Bryan Austin
Sir John Falstaff ………… Steve Holloway
Mistress Quickly ………… Erica Hughes
Host .…………………………. Nicole Morris-Anastasi
Anne/Dr. Caius ……………. Robin Vogel
Slender/Fenton/Nym …. Kellan Oelkers
Bardolph/Shallow ………… Liam Storm
Pistol/Sir Hugh ………….… Mikaela Hanrahan
Rugby .…………………….……. Kit Withers
John ………………………….. Jasmine Khatcheressian
Robin ………………………….. Ellie Irwin
Director: Aili Huber
Choreographer: Nicole Morris-Anastasi
Stage Manager: Jennipher Murphy-Whitcomb
Assistant Stage Managers: Jay Murray & Carissa Lanstra
Lighting Designer: Andrew Bonniwell
Stage Construction: Kevin Johnson
Props Designer: Emily Hicks
Production Manager: James Ricks
Run Time: About 2 ½ hours with one intermission
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: David Parrish Photography
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