theatre review

Jennifer Lines, Duncan Fraser and Kerry Sandomirsky in Bard on the Beach's 2004 staging of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Photo: David CooperThe Merry Wives of Windsor
by William Shakespeare
Bard on the Beach
Vanier Park
June 16 to September 25
$16.00 to $27.00

When the first characters who appear onstage in The Merry Wives of Windsor are named Slender, Simple and Shallow, you pretty much know you’re going to be getting Shakespeare-lite. Yes, this is a play about Falstaff, but he’s hardly the complex comic anti-hero of the Henry IV plays. Shakespeare has written him here as little more than a big-bellied buffoon, a half-hearted lecher who gets not one, not two, but three decreasingly funny come-uppances in the tedious second half of this overly plotted play.

Gone, too, is the earthy physicality of the tavern world. The two merry middle-class wives who punish Falstaff for thinking he can get them to cheat on their husbands haven‘t a sexual bone in their tightly bodiced bodies. Even Mistress Quickly, the lusty tavern-wench, is more talk than action in a play where explanations for what characters are going to do often take longer than the doing itself.

Duncan Fraser as Falstaff, red-faced with apoplexy, maintains an interesting level of dignity while wringing as much comedy as he can out of a central character who is more object than subject of the plot. The real interest in Dean Paul Gibson’s handsome and energetic Bard on the Beach production lies in the sharply etched secondary roles. The 18th century setting calls for an acting style demanding in its physical specificity, and Scott Bellis absolutely nails it in his hilarious French doctor, a dyspeptic Inspector Clouseau. I also really liked David Marr as the jealous husband and Colleen Wheeler’s robust Mistress Quickly. The other women--Jennifer Lines, Kerry Sandomirsky and Lara Gilchrist--look great and do fine work, but there’s really surprisingly little for them to do in what is, despite the title, a man’s man’s man’s man’s world.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:16 PM
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